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Trump's Brash Decision

Trump supporters ended yesterday in a state of gleeful excitement. Once again their fearless leader contradicted his European counterparts, liberal pundits, and the Obama administration that preceded him and went his own way, reimposing sanctions on Iran and effectively ending the Nuclear Deal with that country. Supporters of the president and Iran hawks praised the decision and predicted that either it will bring Iran back to the negotiating table, its tail between its legs, or provoke a war between the Iranians and Israel, started by one side or the other. Either outcome appears to be OK to them.

Iran’s economy is shaky and the regime faces lots of pressures at home from a citizenry that hoped for more success after the lifting of sanctions following signing the original deal. Many of them blame the squandering of resources on military adventurism in Syria and Yemen, which are also factors that figured in Trump rejecting the nuclear deal as ineffective in reining in Iran’s regional ambitions (which was never the purpose of the deal… but so what?). Is it possible that Iran, desperate to keep its economy afloat and its regime in power, will accede to reining in its Middle East empire building in order to avoid a resumption of sanctions? It’s possible. The U.S. still employed some sanctions outside of the nuclear deal and if those were removed, along with not resuming those connected to the deal, this could be a strong incentive to Iran. But such a decision on Iran’s part would mean a reversal of a direction they have been going for some time and with some success (e.g. Syria and Iraq). It’s also possible that the U.S., with its ear to the voices of Benjamin Netanyahu and John Bolton, isn’t really interested in Iran making concessions, but wants the Grand Ayatollah and everyone who runs the current government overthrown and is betting that a bad economy  will lead to enough civil unrest to accomplish that.

Then there’s the possibility that Iran will be bold enough to resume nuclear development and their facilities will be destroyed by either the U.S. or Israel or both, prompting a war with Israel that Trump and Netanyahu believe they can win (and which may draw Saudi Arabia into it), leading to the same kind of regime change scenario a failing economy would provoke.

Anything could happen. The alternative to the above possibilities is that Europe, Russia, China and Iran will all keep working with each other, that American attempts to curtail those other countries’ commerce with Iran via sanctions will be unsuccessful, and that the U.S. will find itself talking to the wall while the rest of the world moves on. Iran hopes so, Russia and China would love such an outcome, and European leaders are probably dreaming about it, but the truth is, that American businesses are powerful enough that sanctioning anyone who trades with Iran by cutting off their American business could cripple many foreign companies and they probably aren’t going to risk doing that.

Notice that none of these options is very satisfactory. Iran probably won’t fold under pressure. Regime change in Iran is both unlikely and, if it occurs, most likely to provoke the messiest, bloodiest, most drawn-out conflict between Sunni and Shia partisans in the region that has yet been seen. For America to be frozen out of the international power structure and the global economy, everyone else would need to be more cooperative with each other and more willing to pool their resources and neglect their differences than they are likely to be. China, Russia and Europe would all need to get on the same page. Not likely.

So we’re left with a disruption with unknown consequences. That’s Trump’s style and he obviously sees himself as nimble enough as a negotiator and as a businessman and now world leader, to be the one who is most able to take advantage of the situation. There’s only one scenario out of the smorgasbord of possible outcomes that works for everyone, and that is that Iran agrees to renegotiate the deal, making it last longer and including curtailment of some of the activities that feed into regional unrest (funding and arming of terrorist groups in Yemen and Syria, development of missile systems). Trump took an awful chance in hopes of gaining such an outcome (unless he really will only be satisfied with regime change in Iran), and much as I strongly believe he made a mistake and actually didn’t know what he was doing, I hope he’s successful. I usually like Trump to be wrong, because I don’t like it when someone who makes decisions out of ignorance, lies about the facts, and brags about the sagacity that he clearly lacks, is right, but not when the cost of him being wrong is as devastating as it might be in this case.

Reader Comments (3)

Didn't Trump sell himself as the great deal maker? So far, he's only withdrawn from treaties and accords, unable to negotiate better deals for the U.S. The only deal he made was with Congress to pass the most regressive tax legislation in the history of the nation, which will bankrupt the general welfare of the citizenry. What a deal!

May 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

Excellent background information, Casey. In response to the point about decisions made out of ignorance, my mind goes to that old Peter Sellers' movie, "Being There," when Chance the gardener was misunderstood to be a nobleman named "Chauncey" because of his misarticulation of his own name and the expensive clothes his employer let him take from the attic. Eventually, Chauncey went on to advise the President because of his "homey" garden wisdom. I think his character actually became President. The man knew nothing but was being interpreted as wise beyond measure until a few people figured it out. If the movie had had a more clever ending, it would have gone on as a classic tale of how ignorance can trip over a fence and land into greatness. It all seems so unfair, but humankind's well-being is all that matters in the end, I suppose.

May 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

Trump Derangement Syndrome is aflame on this board. Apparently, the president is a man who is without any semblance of cognitive thought and any positive effects obtained are simply the result of a naive ignorance. Tell that to the three former North Korean hostages just released from captivity. I’m sure President Trump’s tough talk and strong sanctions had nothing to do with these men gaining their freedom. At least try to be even-handed and give credit where credit is due. President Trump has done more in a year and a half in office than any of the three previous presidents did in their eight years in power. President Trump’s policies have been a godsend to a significant majority of Americans except for a rabidly unreasonable ten percent of the population who just can’t accept the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the election to a more attuned, more charismatic candidate.

May 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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