The question is not whether President Trump should decertify President Obama’s farcical Iran nuclear deal. Of course he should. Indeed, he must: Even if we set common sense to the side, federal law requires it.
Instead, there are two questions.
1. Why has President Trump recertified the deal, not once but twice?
This is shameful. Remember, Trump insisted throughout the 2016 campaign that the deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — was the worst and most dangerous in the history of deals. Just two weeks ago, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, he described it as an “embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” Yet, under the statute that calls for presidential findings every 90 days, the president, in recertifying, represented to Congress and the American people (a) that Iran is “transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing the agreement” and (b) that continuing the JCPOA is “vital to the national security interests of the United States.”
These assertions insult the intelligence.
The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is charged with what laughably passes for the “monitoring” of the JCPOA and related “side agreements,” which the Obama administration shielded from congressional inspection. Last week, the IAEA fessed up: The agency has been unable to verify that Tehran is implementing the deal. The regime has barred inspectors from inspecting military sites. Consequently, as the invaluable analyst Omri Ceren points out, the IAEA has no way of verifying that Iran has refrained from “activities which could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device” (as required by the JCPOA’s Annex 1, Section T — see here, at p. 27).
This admission is not news. It just makes the obvious — the inevitable — explicit. It has been widely known from the first that the JCPOA is not verifiable, despite the Obama administration’s guarantees that it would be. It has long been known, moreover, that Iran is not in compliance with many of the JCPOA’s terms. That, too, illustrates the duplicity by which Obama sought his foreign-policy legacy monument: To get the deal approved by Congress — or, at least, to get it not disapproved under the cockamamie Corker-Cardin legislation — the prior administration solemnly pledged to hold the mullahs to the letter (and, of course, that this could be done verifiably). Obama officials further vowed that sanctions would “snap back” if Iran failed to comply. Once the deal got its congressional stamp of non-disapproval, though, we learned that Obama was quietly waiving violations left and right, and had even agreed to limits on what the IAEA could report — the better to conceal Iran’s breaches.
Bottom line: Iran has never, not for a moment, been “transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing” the JCPOA. The Obama administration knew this all along — and knew it would go this way. The Trump State Department, which is chockablock with Obama holdovers and has heavily lobbied the new president to stand by the deal, has known it from Day One.
And what about that second representation: vital to the national-security interests of the United States?
Seriously? With a straight face?
Quite apart from violating the terms of the JCPOA and refusing to permit verifiable inspections from the start, Iran continues to be the world’s No. 1 sponsor of anti-American terrorism, backing Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Taliban, a network of Iraqi cells, and the Houthis in Yemen, to cite just the best-known examples. That’s not just me talking; the regime continues to be one of just three countries on the U.S. government’s official terrorist list (the others are Syria, which is Iran’s cat’s-paw, and Sudan, which has longstanding ties to the regime in Tehran).
Moreover, Iran maintains its aggressive program of ballistic-missile development in defiance of Security Council resolutions. In fact, less than three months ago, Trump imposed new sanctions on regime officials and abettors. Iran is exporting arms and personnel to fortify Assad’s barbarism in Syria. It continues to threaten Israel’s destruction — in fact, two of the ballistic missiles it has test-fired were inscribed in Hebrew “Israel must be wiped out.” The mullahs are substantially responsible for the massive Hezbollah build-up (including an arsenal estimated at well over 100,000 missiles) that raises the distinct possibility of a catastrophic war. And, still proud to be the “Death to America” regime, Iran continues to abduct American hostages and menace American naval vessels.
Now, as you take all that in, understand: The tens of billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief Tehran has gotten under the JCPOA, including pallets stacked with billions in ransom cash that Obama threw in for good measure, are helping to pay for all of this anti-American malignity. Yet, we are told — multiple times — that maintaining this arrangement is somehow in the vital national-security interests of the United States.
On what planet?
2. What should Trump do after (finally) decertifying?
It is time to walk away.
As our former colleague Eliana Johnson reports at Politico, a scheme is afoot in the Trump administration to decertify the Iran deal without killing it. The idea is that the administration would keep the deal alive rather than push Congress to reinstate the sanctions, while endeavoring to persuade Iran and the other parties to the deal to renegotiate it.
This is a terrible plan.
To begin with, how much more betrayal are we supposed to endure? The Obama administration started down this path assuring the nation that Iran would be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons. Obama then struck a deal that, by its own terms (i.e., even if there were no cheating), merely delayed Iran while paving its way to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Obama officials promised exacting verification protocols and then made an agreement in which Iran’s performance of its obligations could not be verified. Obama officials promised full disclosure but withheld key portions of the deal, then conspired with Iran to conceal its lack of compliance — even as Iran continued its anti-American provocations.
We were encouraged to swallow hard and accept all of this on the assurance that the sanctions could and would be “snapped back” into place if the deal failed to change Iran’s behavior. Now, with Iran’s behavior as appalling as ever, Trump — the guy who campaigned on what a lousy deal it is — reportedly has cold feet about snapping back the sanctions.
The rationalization for keeping the JCPOA is that Iran has already gotten most of the deal’s goodies. Abandoning the deal now would hurt us more than the mullahs, the thinking goes, because it would relieve them of the deal’s burdens.
That’s preposterous. Under the terms of the JCPOA and its undisclosed side deals, we do not and cannot know whether Iran is performing its obligations. More significantly, even if we could verify and even if Iran were in compliance, the deal does not prevent Iran from acquiring nukes; it just slows the mullahs down for a few more years.
Plainly, then, the deal is not in American interests. “But wait,” the decertify-but-don’t-kill-it crowd argues, “we will make it in our interests by improving it.”
Nonsense. If you keep the JCPOA, you have to try to fix it within the framework of the JCPOA . . . under circumstances in which Iran insists it will not renegotiate and our “partner” nations — who now have lucrative financial intercourse with Tehran — will balk. In other words, you would already be negotiating in order to try to preserve something that should never have been agreed to in the first place — and from there, you’d have to plead for accommodations.
It is better to walk away.
What the Iran-deal apologists never mention is that the United States still has enormous leverage in the form of the American economy. Even with the relief Iran has gotten, it is still feeling the pain of being walled off from commerce in U.S. dollars. An aggressive sanctions regimen would punish not only Iran but governments and corporations that do business with Iran. As former Senate staffer Richard Goldberg recounts, this kind of pressure works.
Would there be caterwauling by countries, their heavy-hitter businesses, and even such American companies as Boeing that chase profits in Iran? Yes, of course. If the Trump administration were serious, though, these calculating players would understand in short order that, if they want access to the $19 trillion U.S. economy, they must shun Iran.
They would shun Iran. And while Iran might not change its behavior, what I am proposing presents the only realistic chance of convincing Iran to change its behavior, especially if we unapologetically pursue other ways to squeeze the regime — as opposed to preserving the JCPOA, which obliges us to be supportive of the regime.
Trump the Businessman has long maintained that the art of the deal is knowing when to walk away from the table — when to take a tack antithetical to Obama’s no-concession-is-too-big approach. It is time to walk away from the table. The JCPOA is an atrocious deal that deserves to die. If the president wants to negotiate, let it be on a new deal and on America’s terms — which, you may remember, are that Iran does not get nuclear weapons, must honor its obligations on weapons development and proliferation, and must cease promoting terrorism.
No other deal is worth having.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.