As the October 15th deadline for President Trump to certify Iranian compliance with the P5+1 nuclear deal, the administration, through various media leaks made clear it will refuse to do so. His grounds for refusal are the flimsiest imaginable: Iran has engaged in objectionable behavior which the President wishes violated the deal, but doesn’t. That’s an exceedingly thin reed on which to hang an entire policy.
Trump and the GOP are locked into a rejectionist, even nihilist, approach toward Iran. This should be familiar to many Americans, because It is very similar to the one being used against North Korea. Threats, bellicosity, all substitute for a real policy. Furthermore, they elevate countries and foreign policy issues far above their real importance, even to the brink of nuclear war. Does anyone believe that whatever issues we may have with North Korea, it is worth the death of tens of millions of Asians and Americans to prove a point?
In Iran’s case, the war hawks object to Iran’s missile tests and its support for fellow-Shia in Syria and Lebanon. They also side with their oil rich Sunni allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, who declare Iran to be a mortal threat. In truth, none of these Iranian actions violate the nuclear deal which, as its title suggests, only deals with nuclear issues.
If the Trump administration accepted the P5+1 agreement, and then sought to negotiate a separate one dealing with some or all of these issues, this would he a far more constructive approach. But the GOP knows that many of these issues involve far more players than just Iran, including Syria, Russia, Sunni Islamists like al-Qaeda and ISIS, and their proteges, among them Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In other words, you can’t isolate Iran’s role without taking into account the roles of all the other parties intervening in Syria.
Iran’s missile tests, which so enflame Israel and the GOP, do not violate the JPOA (aka the Iran Nuclear Deal). That does not stop the anti-Iran media and GOP from declaring that they do. Of course, it would be possible to open a new round of negotiations to restrain them. But only in the context of an open process in which all parties are treated with respect. Something sorely lacking in current U.S. foreign policy. The current thinking seems to be that the U.S. will simply declare Iran must stop missile testing, Iran will acquiesce, and demand nothing from us in return. Nor should it have the right to do so.
But that is simply not the way international negotiations work (as Trump, of all people, should understand). If one party wants the other to give away something, then you must give something in return. There simply is no sense of reciprocity in U.S. policy. Which is why it is doomed to failure. Iran will not be brow-beaten into submission. You might even reduce Iranians to eating grass as North Koreans once did during a famine, and they still wouldn’t buckle. So unless the U.S. is prepared to pursue a policy of outright sadism leading to the death of tens of thousands through starvation and plague, we are doomed to fail.
That is what the worst elements of the neocon policy élite want to see. Former administration officials like Tom Ridge and Washington think tanks allied with the Israel Lobby have published screeds calling for violent overthrow of the Iranian regime. Their op-eds are bought and paid for by former terror groups like the MeK charged with assassinating U.S. diplomats. Ridge alone has earned tens of thousands of dollars for giving 15-minute speeches addressed to MeK gatherings around the globe. Scores of other past officials including Howard Dean, Rudy Giuliani, Ed Rendell, John Bolton, have also joined the gravy train.
When Sam Husseini questioned Ridge at an MeK press conference about this, it was not received kindly:
I asked Ridge about any financial arrangement between him or the other speakers and the MEK. He reacted with anger, questioning my motives and my affiliations. Rendell said in much calmer tone that no one was getting paid for today’s event but that people there had been paid for other speeches at other events. One of the speakers indicated that Ridge had personally paid for today’s event. Ridge in his remarks derided the notion that money would ever influence men of the stature of those speaking at the event. I asked if he was arguing that there was no problem of money influencing politics. Rendell cut that off.
Many analysts believe that MeK’s mysterious largesse originated in the treasury of the Saudi regime, a sworn enemy of the Iran’s Shia regime. NBC, quoting Obama administration sources, claimed the Mossad was an important funder as well. Meir Dagan, Israel’s former Mossad chief, publicly boasted of Israeli acts of terrorism sponsored inside Iran. Clearly, these sorts of operations need Iranian insiders and MeK is a likely culprit. The same NBC report asserted that the MeK participated in the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists. I reported here, based on a high-level Israeli former military officer, that the Mossad and MeK jointly coördinated the attacks. Other journalists have reported that the Saudis gave Israel $1-billion for various operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program including the assassinations and the Stuxnet malware attack.
It would be totally in character for the MeK to accept funding from Iran’s enemies, as it was once sheltered in Iraq by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.
Returning to the U.S. president, the problem with the Trump approach is that he has no strategy, no ultimate vision for future relations between the U.S. and Iran. As the old Talking Heads song went: “We’re on the road to nowhere.” His policy is designed for media sound bytes and tweets. It’s pure posturing. This is something that could end up getting many millions killed. And for what? To mollify the ego of a madman? That would be our madman, not theirs.
It’s pitifully ironic that amidst all the gnashing of teeth about Iran’s supposed effort to attain nuclear weapons the GOP dominated Congress shows no sense of outrage for Israel’s 200 weapon stockpile and its refusal to join the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Unlike Israel, Iranian leaders have never contemplated or advocated using nuclear weapons against their enemies during wartime. Unlike Israel, Iran is a member of NPT and has permitted numerous inspections of its facilities by the IAEA, which has affirmed the country’s adherence to the JPOA. Israel on the other hand has never permitted legitimate inspections of its Dimona nuclear reactor, which produces its nuclear weapons.
This week, the Nobel committee awarded its Peace prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Iran, though it does not have nuclear weapons, has made clear that it will never use them or deploy them. Israeli leaders have urged their use during past wars. If Iran knew that its enemies heeded the call of this NGO for a nuclear ban, it would have no need for such weapons, even were it to be pursuing their production. The fault and burden here is on Israel which has them, not Iran which doesn’t.
One hopes that this award will increase pressure on Israel to abandon the folly of its own nuclear arsenal. In Israel’s case, nuclear weapons have enabled it to pursue a reckless, rejectionist policy toward its neighbors. WMD enables it to avoid dealing with a festering, decades-old political problem. Trump’s reckless decertification of the nuclear deal could lead Iran to follow the same path.
This post originally appeared on Richard’s blog, Tikun Olam under the title, Trump and the Iran Nuclear Deal: ‘On the Road to Nowhere,‘ on October 9, 2017.