Macron: Trump Will Pull Out Of Iran Deal For “Domestic Reasons”
French President Emmanuel Macron predicts, correctly, that President Trump will pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran for the worst possible reasons. This will be a disaster for America's national interests.
After two days of meetings in Washington that included a State Dinner and an address to a Joint Session of Congress, French President Emmanuel Macron was exceedingly honest in his assessment of why he expects that President Trump will withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal with Iran:
WASHINGTON — French President Emmanuel Macron said Donald Trump appeared likely to withdraw from a nuclear accord with Iran based on his conversations with the US president in the United States this week.
On the second day of Macron’s state visit, Trump called the Obama-era nuclear deal a “nightmare” that “should never have been negotiated,” wrongfooting his guest who wanted to convince the US president to maintain it.
“I can hear. I seemed to constantly hear that he (Trump) had no serious desire to maintain or defend” the agreement,” Macron told journalists late Wednesday before leaving the United States. “I consider that it’s a campaign pledge he made long ago … I don’t know. Rational analysis does not lead me to think he will stay in the deal.”
Earlier, speaking to a group of journalists in Washington, Macron was more straightforward, saying he thought Trump would pull out of the deal “for his own domestic reasons.”
Speaking with the U.S. president at the White House on Tuesday, Macron floated the possibility of a “new deal” that would complete the current accord by making its terms stricter in several areas. Trump signaled openness to the idea, without endorsing it explicitly. But the two leaders remained at odds over whether to keep the current deal and seek additional concessions from Iran, or tear it up and start over again.
Other European powers who negotiated the original deal under Obama have not signed on publicly to Macron’s new proposal. But a top aide to the French president said he had consulted with them, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin, about his proposal before coming to the United States.
As I noted earlier this week, Macron was in town primarily for the purpose of trying to lobby Trump to stay in the deal, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom Trump doesn’t have a warm relationship at all, will be here tomorrow for the same purpose. As Larison noted in a post yesterday, it’s unlikely that either Macron’s efforts or Merkel’s will be at all productive. This is especially true if, as Macron hypothesizes, Trump is essentially ready to take an action as reckless as this purely for the purpose of domestic political reasons such as satisfying his political base and, arguably, distracting attention from other problems such as the Russia investigation as well as the numerous ethical questions that have arisen over the
Macron’s assessment is hardly surprising, of course, and not really one that anyone can disagree with based on both the President’s rhetoric as a candidate and his actions as a candidate.
As a candidate, Trump’s disdain for the deal was well-known and something that was as much a forefront of his campaign as other topics such as immigration and his border wall, his disdain for international trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO, and his claim that previous Administrations had done a bad job at negotiating on behalf of the United States. Trump’s attacks on the agreement were being made at the same time that the finishing touches were being put on it via the meetings taking place in Switzerland, and there was at least some commentary at the time that such attacks by a leading candidate for the Presidency were potentially harming the prospects for the agreement. Without fail, those attacks were based on false and misleading information that was circulating in conservative media circles and frequently repeated on Fox News Channel, which even today seems to be the President’s chief source of information. In these attacks, Trump claimed repeatedly that he could have negotiated a better deal than the one that then-Secretary of State John Kerry had made along with representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran. In September 2015, while Congress was considering the agreement, Trump co-hosted a rally in Washington with fellow Republican candidate for President Ted Cruz that sought to rally support against the agreement. Ultimately that effort failed and the deal went into effect but that didn’t stop Trump from continuing to criticize the agreement throughout the primary and General Election campaigns and to continue to spread baseless claims about the agreement that had become popular in conservative media.
Once he became President, Trump’s disdain for the JCPOA and his desire to implement his campaign promise to either renegotiate or pull out of it entirely was quite evident. Despite that rhetoric, Trump took a pass on his first opportunity to undo the deal last May when he decided to lift another set of sanctions as called for under the agreement. It was quite clear at the time, though, that the President did this reluctantly and that the entire deal was in danger of falling apart depending on what the United States did next. The President wasn’t quite as circumspect in October when the next opportunity to attack came. At that point, Trump declined to certify to Congress that Iran was complying with the agreement. This happened notwithstanding the fact that both Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Iran was complying with its obligations under the agreement and that staying in the JCPOA was in the national interests of the United States. It also occurred notwithstanding the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the agreement, has said each time it has been required to report on the status of the agreement that Iran is living up to its obligations under the agreement.
In decertify Iranian compliance with the agreement, the President asserted without evidence that the Islamic Republic was in violation of the “spirit” of the agreement, although he did not specify exactly what he meant by that or how it could be reconciled with the statements from his Secretaries of State and Defense and the reports from the IAEA. Additionally, Trump cited matters that are not covered by the terms of the JCPOA such as Iran’s missile program, the foreign policy positions it has taken that are often adverse to those of the United States, its involvement in the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars, and actions that took place in the past such as terrorist attacks that took place as long as twenty years ago or more. While decertification did not formally take the United States out of the JCPOA or result in the reimposition of sanctions that had been lifted pursuant to the agreement, many outside observers assumed that it was just the first step in a process that would lead to that final decision at some point in the future. Taking all of this into account, it’s not hard to guess exactly what Trump will do next month when he announces his intentions regarding the agreement, nor is it even possible to disagree with President Macron’s assessment of the reasons why Trump will most likely withdraw from the agreement.
As Daniel Larison notes, “domestic reasons” are a terrible reason to justify the action that Trump is about to take and likely to lead to reactions that will be bad for the region, bad for the world, and bad for the United States:
It should go without saying that these are terrible reasons to scrap a successful nonproliferation agreement, and it is a measure of how awful Trump’s judgment is that he is going to go through with it. It is a mark of how intellectually bankrupt his party is that he will encounter no meaningful resistance from elected Republicans and Republican policy analysts when he does it. Not a single Republican in Congress supported the deal three years ago, and it is likely that only a very small number will object when Trump withdraws the U.S. from the agreement.
U.S. withdrawal from the agreement will be one of the most predictable moves Trump could make as president. He has been announcing his determination to scrap the deal long before he took office, and it is has taken this long only because several people in his own administration kept trying to prevent it from happening. Withdrawing from the JCPOA will also be one of the most needlessly destructive decisions he could make this year.
Even if U.S. withdrawal doesn’t cause Iran to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in angry protest, it is very likely going to cause Iran to answer our withdrawal from the deal with their own. The restrictions and intrusive inspections that Iran hawks claim are inadequate will be lost immediately and very soon after that we will be back where we were five years ago. Tensions between the U.S. and Iran will continue to increase, and there will be greater risk of clashes in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere as a result. Scrapping a deal that major European governments negotiated alongside ours in good faith will be a gratuitous insult to them and will strain relations with some of our most important treaty allies. The U.S. will be declaring to the world that it doesn’t honor its commitments and looks for excuses to back out of agreements even when they are working perfectly. U.S. diplomatic efforts will be undermined for years to come by such a high-profile violation of our commitments, and other governments would have to be out of their minds to take serious political risks to strike bargains with us while Trump is still in office.
The most immediate impact of Trump withdrawing the United States from the JCPOA won’t be in the Middle East, although the consequences there are likely to be filled with danger. In the near term future, though, the decision will reverberate thousands of miles to the east on the Korean Peninsula. In mere hours, we will see a historic first meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-In and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. That meeting is supposed to be a prelude to a meeting later this spring or early in the summer between Kim and President Trump at a location that has yet to be determined. While that meeting is filled with risks all its own, withdrawing from the JCPOA even as we’re preparing to try to negotiate an agreement with the DPRK sends the signal that the United States in general and this Administration particularly should not be trusted to live up to international agreements, thus undermining the potential of any significant agreement with the DPRK.
Additionally, as Larison notes above withdrawal will undermine the American national interests by raising doubts about whether America’s international allies can count on this nation to abide by other agreements. Given the fact that President Trump’s other major foreign policy moves include measures such as withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accords, those doubts would seem to be well-founded. Whoever becomes President after Trump leaves office, whether that comes in 2021 or 2025, is going to have a lot of international fence-mending to do, to say the very least. It’s likely to make the damage control that President Obama had to do in the wake of the damage that the Iraq War did to America’s standing in the world seem tame by comparison, and much of it could be irreparable. The damage that this will do to America’s national interests, therefore, cannot be understated.