It would be hard to top the recklessness of George W. Bush's 2003 attack on Iraq, but President Trump has managed it by withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear agreement. The consequences will be worse than Iraq. At best, this entails declining U.S. influence and increasing U.S. isolation. At worst, it entails wider war between the Sunni (U.S., Israeli, Arabian) and Shiite (Russian, Iranian, Syrian) alliances.
What motivated Trump to make this utterly irrational move? Michael Hayden, former director of both the CIA and National Security Agency, analyzed the evidence and concluded the only plausible explanation is Trump's hostility to everything Barack Obama did.
Regarding the "best" scenario: The decision brushes off our allies and unites them in opposition to Trump, which delights Russia. The other signatories -- Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran -- will try to preserve the agreement. The French finance minister says people should not accept the United States as the "world's economic policeman. Do we want to be vassals who obey decisions taken by the United States while clinging to the hem of their trousers? Or do we want to say we have our economic interests, we consider we will continue to do trade with Iran?"
Such statements suggest there may be a ray of hope in Trump's decision, namely that Europe will perceive the dangers of our imperialistic foreign policy and assert themselves more forcefully and independently.
Regarding the "worst" scenario: If Iran cannot obtain sufficient sanctions relief, internal pressures will force President Rouhani to return to uranium enrichment. The U.S. and Israel will try to stop this by all possible means, including war.
Americans are insufficiently aware that enduring religious strife lies behind Mideast chaos. Differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, stemming from a dispute over the successor to the prophet Muhammad upon his death in 632 AD, loom over centuries of bloody battles and ruined lives. Today, Iran is the Shiite champion and Saudi Arabia the Sunni champion.
Syria's war ignited in 2011 when President Assad's Shiite-leaning government used deadly force to repress Sunni rebels. Shiite Iran was naturally partisan toward Assad, and the U.S. and Arabs (Saudi Arabia and its Mideast allies) partisan toward the rebels. The U.S. has regarded Iran as the devil incarnate ever since Khomeini took over from our preferred dictator, Shah Pahlavi, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed in 1979. Russia supported its allies Iran and Syria by backing Syria in 2011 and actually joining the battle in 2015. Israel's concern in all this is to ward off Iran and Syria, both of which have been extremely (and unwisely) hostile toward Israel, while siding with the U.S. and the less hostile Arab powers. The two alliances are involved on opposite sides not only in Syria but also in the Yemen war.
Rudolph Giuliani, Trump's newly appointed lawyer, spoke recently to a gathering of activists opposed to Iran's government. He emphasized the importance of "confronting Iran" and supported regime change in Tehran. Trump's national security advisor John Bolton also supports regime change.
A week ago, in the wake of U.S. treaty withdrawal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued 12 demands that Iran must obey on pain of "the strongest sanctions in history." He vowed to use U.S. economic and military power to destroy Iran's economy and "crush" its influence around the world. Our demands reach far beyond Iranian nuclear weapons, embracing all of Iran's international relations.
Iranian uranium enrichment will set off alarm bells in Saudi Arabia and its allies such as United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt, all of whom have considerable nuclear expertise. A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia announced it will build nuclear weapons if Iran does. War-ravaged Syria hosts an Iran-Israel proxy war, with Iran launching rockets into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights adjoining Syria, and Israel responding with blows to Iranian forces within Syria. This conflict ramped up sharply when Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement.
Before the agreement was signed in 2013, Iran was less than a year away from its first bomb. The agreement halted that advance, rolled it back 10 years, and imposed a highly intrusive inspection regime to prevent cheating. Now our president, acting almost on a whim, has thrown all this away.
President Trump has brought us to the brink of another regime-change war, this one with much larger international implications including a real threat of nuclear weapons proliferation and use.
It's time, it's far past time, for Congress and the American people to speak up.
Commentary on 05/29/2018
Print Headline: A disastrous choice