Vanity & insanity: Trump gambles on Iran nuke deal

Martin Jay
Martin Jay is an award winning British journalist now based in Beirut who works on a freelance basis for a number of respected British newspapers as well as previously Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle TV. Before Lebanon, he has worked in Africa and Europe for CNN, Euronews, CNBC, BBC, Sunday Times and Reuters. Follow him on Twitter @MartinRJay
Vanity & insanity: Trump gambles on Iran nuke deal
Donald Trump’s move to scale back the Iran deal is not only a ploy to pressurize the Iranians to accept a new deal, moving both sides toward a war scenario. It’s also about letting him walk away from the North Korean crisis without looking weak and foolish.  

It’s not fake news. It’s really happening. An American president really is poised to tear up a peace deal with the most significant military player in the Middle East, potentially hurling the West into a world war, all for merely quelling his own foibles and failures after nine months in office.

Trump’s absurdly frail personality is behind this latest ruse that is designed to create new tension with Iran, so that he can be seen to be the one getting a better deal with Tehran; and, perhaps more importantly, so he can be at the vortex of a crisis that is guaranteed to keep the US media busy, therefore missing Trump’s domestic failings.

For months now, he has been signing off every 90 days a certificate, which, begrudgingly, accepts that Iran has stuck to its side of the so-called ‘Iran deal.’ Its official title is the ‘The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,’ which, when nailed by Obama in 2015, closed off any chance that Iran could get nuclear weapons for at least a decade.

Now it is assumed Trump won’t extend the next one on October 15th, triggering a political process in Washington which may lead to the collapse of the deal altogether. The Republican maverick is gambling on the mere threat that Congress would vote to scrap it entirely, which, in turn, will leverage Tehran into accepting new demands. The main one is the advancement of ballistic missiles, which has irked Trump since he took office, mainly when Iran tests their latest models.

Yet there is a bevy of experts both in his own circles and even in the Middle East telling him that trying to roll back the deal, or even scrap it, would be insanity. Even the Saudis initially have told him as much (although in recent weeks have done a U-turn and now want him to annul it).

It's all about the Iran deal, stupid

The core of this thorny issue is that Trump mistook from the outset what the Iran deal set out to do and considers it a whole new world order which allows Washington to curtail Iran’s power. ‘The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’ (JCPA) is really about stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. That’s it. And it worked very well until Trump took office in January.

What Trump is trying to do though is not entirely stupid when it’s analyzed, but begs the question who is advising him in the Middle East and how can he personally benefit from Iran actually going ahead and developing its own nuclear weapons in the coming years. To most folk, it just doesn’t make sense.

He wants to create a crisis again with Iran, reverting the US back to 1980s relations which will satisfy the neocons in Washington; he wants a better deal with Iran and to provoke the Iranians with a new threat – while insulting them with talk of reducing their own elite guard to terrorist status – so that it is Tehran itself which takes the initiative to break the nuclear arms deal; and lastly he wants to justify keeping a high number of US forces in the region.

Robert E. Hunter, former US Ambassador to NATO agrees.

Writing recently, he argues that “undercutting the agreement as it stands would guarantee the US will be unable, for the foreseeable future, to reduce US military engagement in the region (even if Islamic State, the principal Islamist terrorist threat, is destroyed). It would also guarantee a further deterioration in US relations with key allies and further loss of trust in the competence of US political leadership."

Hunter goes further and supports the North Korea idea. He says a new Iran crisis takes the heat off Trump to go ahead with his war-mongering promises to hit the North Korean leader, whom he calls ‘Rocket Man.'

“And it would further distort US priorities, reducing the chances of dealing effectively with the emerging, truly existential, threat from North Korea.”

Furthermore, it’s too close to call whether Congress would go the full nine yards and re-impose sanctions immediately against Iran anyway. Even Iran hawks don’t shoot straight on the issue.

According to The Hill, in a recent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations Sen. Tom Cotton, one of Congress’ staunchest Iran hawks, argued for decertifying the deal to “have the threat of sanctions hang over Iran to push it to renegotiate the deal.”

“The world needs to know we’re serious, we’re willing to walk away, and we’re willing to re-impose sanctions and a lot more than that,” he said. “And they’ll know that when the president declines to certify the deal, and not before.”

But then he back peddled. Later he clarified that he wasn’t necessarily saying sanctions should be re-imposed immediately during the 60-day period in question, as, in his words, it was not enough to conduct “coercive diplomacy.”

Iran hawks, birds of the same feather

In many ways a new crisis with Iran – or a new deal – scores many points for Trump neocons, that is, if we are to believe former strategist Steven Bannon, who warned when leaving his White House job that many Republicans would soon abandon Trump due to a crisis in confidence. His Middle East policies are critical to the lack of confidence which leads him to fire senior staff so quickly and to ponder his own failings among even his closest aides, like Rex Tillerson, who is reported to have upset Trump by calling him a “moron.”

Yet is anyone actually advising him? Does this explain some worrying gaps in his logic about making such seismic errors or judgment in the region? For example, calling Iran’s ‘Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) terrorists was a mistake. “I hope that the US ruling body would not make the strategic mistake..., but if it does so, then Iran’s response will be firm, decisive, and...the U.S. should accept its consequences,” the spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, told reporters, according to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

The US leader has yet to understand that while he may well still aspire to build himself a throne made of knives, sitting on it will be nigh on impossible if he doesn’t play a more prudent game with Iran. Ironically, Trump playing at so-called ‘smart diplomacy’ in the Middle East is as scary as him playing war games; he lacks the guts and cunning for the latter, and the requisite intelligence for the former.

Martin Jay is based in Beirut and can followed at @MartinRJay

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.