“The Iran deal is doomed.” So headlines the Weekly Standard, which is odd because I recall the same Standard caterwauling two years ago that the deal had to be stopped because it would be irreversible once signed.
This time around they’re right, though: the Iran deal can be repealed, at least so far as America’s participation is concerned. Donald Trump, a longtime critic of the agreement, has plenty of avenues here. He could sign it out of existence entirely, since it was approved only as an executive agreement rather than a treaty. He could refuse to issue the necessary sanctions waivers, which would have the same effect. He could try to renegotiate certain provisions, which could drive the Iranians away in exasperation (Ayatollah Khamenei has said if Trump tries to tear it up, Iran will “set fire to it,” presumably while it’s inside an embassy). He could bivouac Congress into passing new sanctions, on individuals or Iranian behavior, which would make gun-shy investors even more hesitant.
One of the untold stories of American-Iranian relations is how mercilessly the Obama administration enforced sanctions before the deal, leveling gigantic fees against banks and businesses for even the smallest infractions. This is why commerce failed to boom in Iran even after the deal was passed: many companies are still wary of crossing the American government, since our non-nuclear-related sanctions remain very much in place. Those include prohibitions on dealing with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite paramilitary unit that’s tunneled its tendrils deep into the sanctions-depleted economy; hence the difficulty: get caught working with an IRGC subsidiary and you’re hammered. Congressman Mike Pompeo, our future CIA director, has proposed fresh sanctions on Iran, which would only make the business climate more perilous.
I wrote last week that foreign policy in America is decided by committee, with knowledgeable advisors laying out options and relatively benighted presidents choosing from among them. Who has Trump selected to counsel him on foreign policy? So far we have Pompeo, perhaps Congress’ most ardent opponent of the Iran deal (and that’s saying something); Michael Flynn, who has opined that the agreement is based in “wishful thinking”; and Jeff Sessions, who will be less involved as the attorney general, but has still called the deal a “mistake.” It’s possible Trump will nominate a deal proponent to fill out his advisor corps—the rumors swirling around Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard are certainly encouraging and Senator Bob Corker could prove a moderating voice—but even then, a lone voice against everyone else’s?
There is one hope. Though Trump has raged against the Iran agreement for a year and a half, calling it the worst deal ever negotiated in the history of mankind (ironically that includes the Munich Agreement), during the Republican primary he initially stopped short of saying he’d rubbish it entirely. Why? Because it’s a contract and you don’t renege on a contract, something Trump, a dealmaker, intimately understands.
It’s one thing to trash the agreement when you’re outside government and exposed to the myriad lies that hawks have unleashed like the Furies (no, it’s doesn’t “give Iran the bomb” in 10 years, and you’re an idiot if you believe that). It’s quite another to tear it up once you’re inside and understand the actual nature of the deal, which is this: it was negotiated with the narrow but crucial purpose of stopping Iran’s nuclear program and it’s done exactly that. Tehran has shuttered some of its former atomic facilities, readapted others, and shipped 98 percent of its nuclear fuel out of the country. The last round of parliamentary elections were a referendum on the deal and the relative moderates beat out the hardliners. Send that into the shredder, and you’ll give the ayatollahs an excuse to start all over again, isolate the U.S. from the Europeans who lifted their sanctions, and handicap American companies looking for new frontiers.
Perhaps, confronted with that reality, it will be our next president who submits to instinct and saves the deal. Donald J. Trump, a possible moderate on Iran—what a world.