By David Malcolm
Dr. Samuel Johnson, creator of the first English Dictionary once remarked that the people of Southern Scotland knew as much as about their Highland neighbors as they did about New Zealand in that ‘They have heard a little and guess the rest.’ Iran and its recent nuclear deal are a similar case. Despite being considered an implacable enemy of America, very few Americans actually know much about the country itself. As far as they’re concerned, there is little to know except that it is a threat to the Middle East because of its extremist beliefs on Islam and its anti-democratic ways (unlike Saudi Arabia, the ‘good’ kind of extremist and anti-democratic followers of Islam).
Donald Trump certainly likes that line of thinking, railing against the threat Iran poses to the Middle East and claiming that it is violating the terms of the nuclear deal or rather ‘the spirit’ of the agreement. Trump chose his words carefully since Iran hasn’t actually violated the terms of the deal, but Trump has never let a little matter like the truth get in the way of a decent speech. The fact that his hated enemy Obama came up with this deal is just icing on the cake. Trump has hinted at refusing the certify the deal and may ask Congress to re-impose sanctions on Iran for its ‘violation’.
The biggest issue Trump has, apart from the fact that Iran hasn’t violated the deal, is that he is basically flying in the face of Hassan Rouhani’s mandate to stand by the deal, Europe, the United Nations and his own advisors from the Joint Chief of Staff to Rex Tillerson and General Mattis. France, Germany and the UK have all tried and failed to convince Trump not to pull out of an agreement that has considerable economic and political benefits to Iran, America, Europe and the Middle East. In fact, Europe looks set to once again defy Trump and try to salvage the deal without the support of the United States, isolating America further from global politics. Even China and Russia have insisted that Trump must not jeopardize the deal and that renegotiation is not possible.
Despite the long-held animosity towards Iran, Obama made a significant step in bringing Iran to the table. The deal allows Iran to re-engage with the wider world with the hope that stronger economic ties will lead to a de-escalation and perhaps political and social reform later down the line. Fresh sanctions will only cause animosity, leaving America facing both North Korea and Iran, two emerging nuclear powers that threaten to destabilize peace in their respective regions.
Hassan Rouhani will be even less pleased with this turn of events. The threat of Trump pulling out of the deal encouraged Iran to stick as closely to the terms of the agreement as possible so that Trump will be devoid of excuses to pull out. Moreover, Rouhami was re-elected with an increased majority earlier this year, riding high on his success in re-establishing relations with the West and improving the economy. Iran still has many issues and problems, but Rouhani should be seen as a potential ally towards progress rather than a threat.
Donald Trump is also defying his European allies, cementing their view that they can no longer rely on or trust America to represent global interests. Rather than work with his allies, Trump seems intent on antagonizing them, favoring a nationalistic ‘America First’ policy which is causing more harm than good. Many of Europe’s leaders feel that Trump is either unaware of the considerable benefits of the deal forged by his predecessor or simply blinded by his own ignorance. Either way, Europe is willing to defy Trump and keep the deal alive with Iran which will be an interesting conundrum for Trump’s successor to contemplate.
The main reason for this is Trump appealing to his slowly eroding base and to earn some kind of achievement, even if it hurts America’s security interests in the long run. With tensions high over North Korea, Trump seems to want a second showdown with Iran, against the advice of his own military. Although Obama did circumvent Congress in creating the deal, there is little evidence that Congress wants to be left holding the nuclear baby. The leadership in Congress is at the mercy of hardliners but most politicians are wary of handling a complex and divisive debate so soon after Obamacare and tax reform. While they agree with Trump over Iran’s extremist leanings and support of terrorism, no one wants to see the Middle East as another North Korea-style situation. The defiance of Europe and the fact that Trump is going against the military’s suggestion may tip the scales in favor of defying Trump.
The main problem is the same one that Trump faced over Obamacare and his new tax reform: divided members with conflicting and competing interests with a haphazard leadership and an unclear goal. The fact that Trump is going against his own military advisors who support the deal may tip the scales in favor of defying Trump. Ripping up the deal for short-term political gain is never a good option and it’s likely that no one will thank the GOP for re-opening wounds with Iran. They might even wish for Obama to take charge again and see them the error of their foolish ways, just as many of us already do.
Once again, Donald Trump is plunging the world into a new wave of uncertainty and leaving the fate of millions on edge for his own selfish and grasping purposes. His desire to win is so great, he is willing to defy his allies and his staff, risking national security and international goodwill for the sake of TV ratings and ‘winning’.