By James W. Carden* – The Nation
Has decision puts US national security at risk while handing a long-sought victory to Netanyahu and the Israel lobby.
President Donald J. Trump announced he was withdrawing from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the EU.
In so doing, Trump is putting US national-security interests at grave risk, all while alienating our closest allies and making the US appear as a rogue state in the eyes of the world.
In his remarks from the White House Diplomatic Room, Trump claimed that at the heart of the Iran deal “was a giant fiction.”
Yet it soon became clear that his decision is based on not one but several fictions, the first being that the Iran deal only benefits one nation, Iran. And because Iran is, according to Trump and his newly installed neoconservative brain trust, “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” it cannot be trusted to abide by the terms of the deal.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s remarks were riddled with falsehoods and disingenuous claims relating to the deal.
Trump said that the deal would do nothing to stop Iran’s “sinister activities in Syria, Yemen, and other places all around the world.” But it wasn’t meant to; the deal was only meant to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions, not its geopolitical ones.
Trump declared “we have definitive proof” that Iran’s claim that it seeks only a peaceful nuclear-energy program is “a lie.”
Yet Trump put forward no evidence that Iran was not fulfilling its commitments under the deal. And probably for very good reason: In recent weeks, both of his top-ranking intelligence officials, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates and then–CIA Director Mike Pompeo, have testified before Congress that neither of them has seen any evidence that Iran is in breach of its commitments.
Indeed, as recently as March 5, IAEA director general Yukia Amano stated, “As of today, I can state that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments.” None of the other signatories has seen any sign of Iranian violations of the JCPOA either.
Trump also claimed that the deal does not permit inspections of Iranian military sites. Said Trump, “the deal’s inspection provisions lack adequate mechanisms to prevent, detect, and punish cheating and don’t even have the unqualified right to inspect many important locations, including military facilities.” This, according to the co-director of the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program, James Acton, is “an out-and-out lie.”
Needless to say, the arguments Trump put forth to justify his decision fall apart upon the minutest scrutiny. And since Trump’s stated rationale is patently absurd, perhaps we should look elsewhere for an explanation.
Just over a week ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a televised address in which he claimed Israeli intelligence had obtained thousands of pages of files that proved that “Iran planned at the highest level to continue work related to nuclear weapons under different guises and using the same personnel.”
“Iran lied—big time,” said Netanyahu.
Never mind the fact that, as Joe Cirincione, head of the nonproliferation advocacy group Ploughshares, recently pointed out, “Israel had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it tried and failed to hide for years. They repeatedly and consistently lied to US officials when confronted with the evidence.”
Netanyahu’s intended audience for what many nonproliferation experts deemed a risible presentation was, of course, President Trump. And in terms of tone and content, Trump’s announcement hewed closely to what the Israeli prime minister put forth on April 30.
Ultimately, Trump’s decision points to the problem of foreign influence on US foreign policy. And it has long been obvious—and never more so than today—that the Republican Party has long acted as the Washington branch of Netanyahu’s Likud. In their opposition to the JCPOA, they have often acted as one.
The accusation that Israel (or its influential American lobby) controls US foreign policy of course goes too far; after all, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were able to face down a joint Israeli-Republican influence campaign to get the deal passed; it was a particularly ugly campaign, and given today’s announcement, it is worth briefly recalling.
In his book on the negotiations leading up to the Iran deal, Losing an Enemy, Iran expert Trita Parsi writes that Netanyahu’s campaign to undermine Obama’s efforts to get the deal by Congress was so extreme that National Security Adviser Susan Rice complained to the head of the Anti-Defamation League that the Israeli prime minister “had done everything but use ‘the N-word’ in describing the president.”
Close American allies were also exasperated by the Israeli-Republican effort. According to Parsi, the British were “particularly upset that the Republicans welcomed the Israeli lobbying against the deal…but didn’t allow for their closest ally, the United Kingdom, to have a say in the debate.”
More alarming still, the NSA intercepted conversations between the Israeli ambassador, the Florida-born former Republican operative Ron Dermer, and lawmakers, during which Dermer overtly lobbied against the deal. US intelligence discovered that Dermer asked lawmakers: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?” According to Parsi’s account, Dermer “even coached hawkish Jewish-American groups on which talking points to use with lawmakers.”
In the end, Obama and Kerry proved that a Democratic administration committed to US national-security interests will be able to overcome the obstacles put in the way of it by the Republicans and the Israel lobby.
But a Republican administration dominated by neocons, such as the current one, will embark on no such effort for the simple reason that the Israel lobby and the millions of Christian Zionists who make up a large share of the Republican base have a virtual stranglehold on Republican lawmakers.
And so, while Trump had long signaled he would do this, the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA is the ultimate betrayal of his America First foreign-policy pledge. It is also only more proof (as if more were needed) that for nearly two decades now, the United States—beginning with the illegal bombardment of Serbia in 1999 and continuing almost nonstop, right up to the recent illegal missile strikes on Syria—has been acting as little more than a First World rogue nation.
Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran deal only cements that perception in the eyes of the world. We are now all less safe because of it.
*James W. Carden is a contributing writer at The Nation. He served as an adviser on Russia policy at the US State Department. A contributing writer at The Nation, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Quartz, The American Conservative and The National Interest. He is executive editor for the American Committee for East-West Accord.