On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump began the process of killing the Iran nuclear deal by refusing to certify that Iran was meeting its commitments under the deal.
Trump has threatened to walk away from the deal if Congress doesn’t adjust it to his specifications, although both Iran and the other signers of the agreement say US changes may constitute breaches of the agreement.
Trump announced the decision in a bizarre speech filled with anti-Iran falsehoods. The tone of the speech was reminiscent of the bald-faced lies the Bush administration told to Americans in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Once again, a Republican administration is lying to Americans about a Middle Eastern country’s alleged WMD program, setting us on a path to war.
Trump has falsely claimed that Iran violated the agreement on a number of occasions. Yet the International Atomic Energy Agency, Trump’s own secretary of state, and even his defense secretary say this is not true.
The former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Friday, “Trump ignoring IAEA inspection findings re Iran’s compliance w/ nuclear deal brings to mind run up to Iraq war. Will we ever learn?”
In his speech, Trump claimed Iran was intimidating nuclear inspectors and preventing access to inspection of certain locations. But the IAEA undercut this statement as well: “So far, the IAEA has had access to all areas it needed to visit.”
Trump also made fictional connections between Iran and al Qaeda, just as the Bush administration did between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The Trump administration is recycling the same Bush administration lies, this time about a new country, to push a new war.
Given the similar style of the rhetoric, it makes sense that a number of Bush-era individuals and organizations are behind Trump’s Iran policy.
Trump reportedly consulted with Fox News’ Sean Hannity and neocon and Bush administration alumnus John Bolton on what to do about the Iran deal. They both pushed Trump to adopt a hard line on Iran.
In the end, these two won out over the advice of Trump’s own secretary of defense, secretary of state, and national security advisor, who all recommended certifying the deal.
John Bolton was seen entering the White House just days before Trump made his announcement on the Iran deal. Mr. Bolton also reached Trump by phone Thursday evening, the night before his address announcing his refusal to certify the agreement.
Bolton phoned Trump from Las Vegas, where he was meeting with the conservative mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Bolton’s influence could be seen in the speech as well. He had pushed Trump to say that the US can cancel the deal at any time, and Trump ended up using the phrase in his address on Friday.
Bolton said following Trump’s announcement, “The Iran deal may not have died today, but it will shortly.”
Bolton is far from the only voice from the Bush administration gaining influence in the Trump administration. Following Trump’s difficulty attracting staff early in his presidency, a number of figures from the Bush administration were appointed to high-profile positions in the Trump administration.
Nikki Haley, who was the major voice within the administration pushing to decertify the deal, has been known to dig up Bush administration files to help draft her strategy.
In addition, Mark Dubowitz, head of the neocon think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), delivered a 7-page memo to Trump’s National Security Council earlier this year that called for regime change in Iran.
The FDD was founded in the days after 9/11 to push the Iraq war and the other failed policies of the Bush administration. It has received enormous donations from Sheldon Adelson and other conservative billionaires.
The FDD memo discussed ways the US might generate civil unrest in Iran, with the goal being a ‘free and democratic’ Iran. George W. Bush often spoke of a “free and democratic Iraq” during his devastating war there.
Given the history of US support for the 1953 coup and US support for the Shah dictatorship, most Iranians will have trouble taking US promises of democracy and freedom seriously.
The memo also repeated a popular motif of US regime-change delusions, certainly something that’s been said about North Korea for decades, that the country is on the verge of collapse.
Following Trump’s decision not to certify the Iran deal, the FDD began pushing the lie that Iran had harbored al Qaeda operatives after 9/11. In actuality, Iran captured al Qaeda members like Osama bin Laden’s son, Saad bin Laden, and offered him to the US. The Bush administration even admitted in 2008 that Iran rounded up hundreds of al Qaeda suspects who had fled Afghanistan for Iran and had passed their information on to the US.
Trump’s decision to listen to Iran hard-liners and begin unraveling the agreement has left the US completely isolated from its traditional allies in Europe. A joint statement by the leaders of the UK, Germany, and France voiced their collective commitment to the deal.
The lone voices of praise for Trump’s decision came from rogue states of the Middle East, all with long histories of human rights abuse. The brutal dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, the country to which Trump made his first foreign visit and which has pledged hundreds of billions to the Trump administration in the form of weapons deals, praised Trump’s decision. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel and the repressive dictatorship of the UAE joined in the praise as well.
But can Trump unilaterally blow up the deal?
The National Iranian American Council stated after Trump’s announcement, “Contrary to the reporting, Donald Trump is killing the deal – not in one move, but in several moves. First, Congress will attempt to kill it through deal-killing legislation from Tom Cotton. If that is blocked, Trump has vowed to kill it himself. Either way, the deal will get killed by this process triggered by Trump.”
“Cotton’s legislation would seek to unilaterally rewrite the nuclear deal, an unequivocal violation of the agreement. A vote for that bill would be as significant as a vote for the 2002 war with Iraq.”
Senator Bernie Sanders echoed similar sentiments yesterday as well: “Now that this decision has been put in Congress’ hands, it’s up to us to stop this drift toward war.”
Despite Trump’s lies about Iran supporting terror, Iran is a vital part of the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria. ISIS is now on the run, and al Qaeda has been weakened, but the Trump administration is taking its eye off the ball to fracture the anti-ISIS coalition by starting a potentially disastrous conflict with Iran.
The US is still in Iraq 16 years after the US first went to war there in 2003. The result of that invasions was death on a massive scale, destruction, debt, and the unleashing of a new and even more vicious terror organization. It would be wise for the US to avoid making those mistakes again, as the consequences may be even worse this time.