President Trump shows a signed presidential memorandum reinstating US nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime on May 8, 2018. (Evan Vucci/AP)
President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal is the greatest boost for American and global security in decades.
If you think that is an exaggeration, then you evidently think the Obama administration’s injection of well over a hundred billion dollars — some of it in the form of cash bribes — into the coffers of the world’s leading state sponsor of anti-American terrorism was either trivial or, more delusionally, a master-stroke of statecraft.
Of course, there’s a lot of delusion going around. After repeatedly vowing to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons (with signature “If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance” candor), President Obama, and his trusty factotum John Kerry, made an agreement that guaranteed Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon.
They rationalized this dereliction with the nostrum that an unverifiable delay in nuclear-weapons development, coupled with Iran’s coup in reestablishing lucrative international trade relations, would tame the revolutionary jihadist regime, such that it would be a responsible government by the time the delay ended. Meantime, we would exercise an oh-so-sophisticated brand of “strategic patience” as the mullahs continued abetting terrorism, mass-murdering Syrians, menacing other neighbors, evolving ballistic missiles, crushing domestic dissent, and provoking American military forces — even abducting our sailors on the high seas.
And, of course, the most risible self-deception of all: The only alternative to this capitulation was war.
In point of fact, war was not the alternative to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. War was theresult of the JCPOA.
Obama said the mullahs would use the windfall to rebuild their country (while Kerry grudgingly confessed that a slice would still be diverted to the jihad). Instead, billions of dollars poured into Iran by Obama’s deal promptly poured out to Syria, where it funded both sides of the war. Cash flowed to the Taliban, where it funded the war on the American-backed government. It flowed to Hamas and Hezbollah for the war on Israel. It flowed to Yemen, funding a proxy war against Saudi Arabia.
The JCPOA made Iran better at war than it has ever been — and that’s saying something.
The challenge of Iran has never been the specter of nukes. The challenge is the jihadist regime. But the JCPOA was a lifeline to a regime whose zeal to acquire mass-destruction weapons betrays its fear of internal revolt. The regime came to the bargaining table knowing Obama could be rolled, but it was driven to the table by a global economic-sanctions framework, principally constructed by the U.S. Congress. The sanctions choked the pariah regime, providing the great mass of Iranian dissenters with hope that their tormentors could be overthrown — hope that Obama had dashed in 2009, when he turned a deaf ear as the regime brutalized protesters.
The JCPOA empowered the totalitarians. Trump’s exit squeezes them.
The deal was a farce that literally obligated the United States not merely to accede to Iran’s enrichment of uranium but to help protect Iran’s nuclear facilities. (See JCPOA Article 10, Annex III, Sec. 10 (“Nuclear Security”): obliging the U.S. to help strengthen Iran’s ability to “prevent, protect and respond to nuclear security threats to nuclear facilities,” including “sabotage.”) As I’ve previously outlined, every time the president recertified the deal, as federal law required, he had to make two representations, neither of which was ever true: (a) that Iran was “transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing the agreement,” and (b) that continuing the JCPOA was “vital to the national security interests of the United States.” The Obama administration spared Iran from revealing the history of its nuclear program, which would have been necessary to establish a baseline for compliance purposes; it cut side deals — concealed from Congress — that made verification procedures an impenetrable private arrangement between Iran and the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency; and it agreed to limits on what IAEA was allowed to report about Iranian violations (see former longtime national-security official Fred Fleitz’s analysis, here).
For these and myriad other reasons, the JCPOA was a debacle. Yet Obama apologists posit two other objections to Trump’s cashiering of the former president’s legacy agreement: abandoning the deal (1) isolates the United States and (2) suggests that the United States cannot be trusted to keep its word.
Far from isolating the United States, President Trump is proving that the United States is the indispensable nation. Nations will be put to a choice: You can have access to the U.S. economy or you can have commerce with Iran — not both. Our European allies know this is not a real choice: They can’t isolate us, they need us, our markets, and the umbrella of our protection. They’re angry because they’d like to pocket the benefits they get from us while cutting profitable deals with our enemies. That’s not “isolating us”; that’s a tantrum. They will get over it in short order if the president is steadfast about enforcement.
Moreover, the JCPOA did not represent America’s word, it represented Obama’s word. Our Constitution and our laws are no secret. Our European allies know full well that a president has no power unilaterally to bind the United States to an international agreement. We give our word when we enter a treaty or enact legislation that cements commitments. Obama did not seek to make his deal a treaty precisely because he knew America was not giving its word — the public did not support the deal, which would have been roundly defeated if subjected to the Constitution’s process for ratifying international commitments.
Finally, we must sound a cautionary note. These columnspleaded with Congress to reject the self-defeating Corker-Cardin legislation that helped Obama create the veneer of congressional approval. Corker-Cardin turned the Treaty Clause on its head: Instead of rejecting the deal unless a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate approved it, as the Constitution requires, it portrayed the deal as “not disapproved” unless two-thirds of both Houses voted it down — enabling Democrats to help Obama prevail.
This counter-constitutional charade never had the legal force to ratify the JCPOA (although it did provide fodder for Obama officials and foreign governments to claim that the agreement has binding status under international law). But there is a danger. Because Congress’s sanctions are statutory, they could be repealed by statute. Corker-Cardin is statutory law. As we warned, Obama Democrats, Iran, and transnational progressives everywhere will now contend that, even if it did not make the JCPOA legally binding, Corker-Cardin did have the effect of repealing the sanctions. If this is correct, the sanctions would not “snap back” into place; Congress would have to reenact them.
In our current legislative environment, that would be a steep mountain to climb. But the Trump administration must be ready with a strategy to combat this claim and rebuild (and strengthen) the sanctions — in addition to pressuring Tehran on other fronts.
That is tomorrow’s problem. For today, President Trump has reestablished that the United States and the world are more secure when we confront our enemies rather than fantasizing that they are suitable negotiating partners — even as they bray, “Death to America!”