Why Should the President Pretend that Iran Is Complying with the Nuclear Agreement?

Oct. 11 2017

According to a report by the German government, Iranian agents made 32 illegal attempts in 2016 to purchase materials necessary for the country’s ballistic-missile and nuclear-weapons programs; meanwhile, Tehran has not allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to carry out the inspections mandated by the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA). Thus, argues Abe Greenwald, there is little reason for the president to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement by the October 15 deadline:

If Trump were not to decertify the deal, he would be lying about one of the gravest matters of American national security. He’d be declaring, against the testimony of the IAEA, that Iran is allowing for certain crucial inspections when, in fact, it’s not. The United States would become Iran’s duplicitous representative to international bodies.

Why do that? Well, the thinking goes, Iran has already received tens of billions of dollars as a result of the deal. Killing the deal wouldn’t help us recoup those losses; it would only further limit our ability to keep tabs on Iran. This is a compelling argument but only because there are always compelling reasons to let bad actors have their way. Those reasons boil down to the idea that confronting dangerous parties is riskier than appeasing them.

It is this very thinking that has for decades guided our mistaken policy on Iran and North Korea. While institutional inertia ensures no change in bad American policy, the countries we try to deter strengthen their hands and become effectively undeterrable. That’s how the world’s worst problems—North Korea’s nuclear program, for example—become unsolvable. . . .

Is there a better deal to be had? I doubt it, but it could be worth trying. . . . [And] what if the JCPOA is dismantled and there’s no better deal to be had? . . . Iran wants to dictate to or destroy the United States or its allies by possessing a deliverable nuclear weapon. If that doesn’t warrant consideration of a bombing run, nothing does.

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More about: Donald Trump, Iran nuclear program, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin