The reaction to President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran deal (JCPOA) has been nothing sort of surreal. Despite the fact that he followed through on a campaign promise in the face of fierce international pressure – including from our most important European allies – Mr. Trump has been attacked for demonstrating that the U.S. cannot be counted on to keep its word.
Books have been written about how President Obama embraced JCPOA by committing a series of cynical end runs around laws governing America’s entry into enforceable agreements. He pointedly avoided seeking treaty status for JCPOA because he knew he didn’t have the necessary votes in the U.S. Senate for ratification. (Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution gives the president the power to make treaties “provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.)
Mr. Obama’s shenanigans were front-page news for months. So the Iranians and the others had to have known that the future of the JCPOA depended on the concurrence of President Obama’s successor in office and that there were no guarantees.
Indeed, several weeks before JCPOA was concluded, an “open letter” to “leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” signed by 47 Republican senators (all but seven members of the Senate Republican majority) warned that a deal with Mr. Obama might not be all that enduring: “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen, and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
To be sure, President Obama, well aware of the diplomatic legerdemain he was perpetrating and its fundamental flaw, sought to outmaneuver Congress and any non-cooperative successor by turning to the United Nations. Thus, his ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, promptly circulated a draft of a resolution calling on parties to JCPOA to refrain from taking any actions that would undermine it.
But the language of the proposed resolution was weak and was introduced pursuant to provisions of the UN Charter that are not binding. Besides the argument that a UN resolution should supersede U.S. law absent a bona fide treaty was never going to go very far.
So President Trump clearly acted within his legal prerogatives in leaving JCPOA. But was it good policy? From where we sit, we think the answer is a no-brainer.
For one thing, the treasure trove of secret Iranian files Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared with the world two weeks go reveals quite clearly that the Iranians lied about a key premise of JCPOA. That is, their stockpiles of fissionable material made it possible for them to produce nuclear weapons in a far shorter period –“the breakout time” – than they led everyone to believe. Thus, JCPOA was built on a lie.
Other problems with the deal included Iran’s ability to continue developing ballistic missiles, keep certain military bases secret from inspectors, and force inspectors to give them warnings of several weeks before examining areas subject to inspection.
One of the arguments the Obama administration made for JCPOA was that it would persuade Iran to reenter the family of nations and stop supporting terror around the world. This too, was a pipe dream. After receiving the billions of dollars from the U.S. as part of the agreement, Iran promptly spent much of it on foreign adventurism through surrogates like Hezbollah.
So what does President Trump now have in mind for Iran? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech the other day that the U.S. contemplates the imposition of “the strongest sanctions in history,” which would be lifted if Iran adopts sweeping changes: severely curb its military and political influence abroad, stop manufacturing fissionable material, end forever its pursuit of nuclear power that could be diverted to military weapons production, and submit to a real inspection regime.
What comes through loud and clear is that the president will not allow Iran to take advantage of trade with the West to finance its support for terror. Even without sanctions, the Iranian economy is already tanking such that regime change is a distinct possibility in the near future. Enormous pressure to acquiesce to the United States will doubtless continue to mount.
Some suggest that Iran could still trade with European countries. But the impending sanctions plan would prohibit countries that trade with Iran from trading with the U.S. and from working within the American banking system. So the European traders would soon have to choose between the enormous U.S. economy and the Iranian economy. The choice will not be a difficult one, we think.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reacted to the president’s action by saying, “The world of today doesn’t accept that the U.S…. Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?”
Well, let’s see what happens.