The Art of the Iran Deal

10/13/2017 02:50 pm ET Updated Oct 13, 2017

To discredit peace, Donald Trump will choose war.

Neither Donald Trump nor anyone in his administration seriously believe that Iran has violated its obligations under the deal. The international community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), U.S. allies and partners in the deal, senior members of his own administration -- all emphasize that the Iran Deal is working.

Trump himself has offered no compelling evidence to the contrary. Transparently and clumsily, he has long signaled his intention to sabotage the agreement regardless of Iran’s behavior. U.S. allies are not fooled. They are united in opposition to his attack on the Iran Deal, along with Russia and China. If the U.S. walks away from the deal, it will walk away alone.

The president insists that the Iran Deal is worthless: “We got nothing.” As a result, here’s what we stand to lose: the credibility of the United States, relationships with key allies, an agreement that is vital to preventing an Iranian nuclear weapons program and a destabilizing arms race in the Middle East, the ability to conduct diplomacy and act as a leader in solving problems around the world.

Donald Trump was given the responsibility to honestly assess a question of major national security importance, but he is unwilling or unable to act in good faith. He has forced his own party in Congress to either take tools away from him -- tools he has thrown down petulantly -- or risk further damage to U.S. credibility and security.

So what gain does he see? Today, he laid out an argument that the focus of the Iran Deal on nuclear weapons is “myopic.” He pointed to other issues with the Iranian regime, including humanitarian violations and the funding of terrorism. While those are important problems, they are dwarfed by the consequences of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability, not just for the region but for the world. When it comes to avoiding nuclear war, there isn’t a bigger picture.

Trump has also failed to articulate how destroying the Iran Deal will make it easier to address other problems in the region. North Korea illustrates how humanitarian crises are not made simpler when nuclear weapons are added to the mix. The Iran Deal doesn’t take away any U.S. options to apply pressure in other arenas, including “terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles.”

Another explanation for the decision to decertify the Iran Deal is domestic political calculation. Before the day is over, there will be a dozen hot takes analyzing Trump’s choice as a ‘strategic move’ designed to ‘shore up his base.’ According to pundits who are eager to ascribe conventional goals to Donald Trump’s behavior, Donald Trump shores up his base a lot.

But this move isn’t good for anyone, much less for a base that is evidently built on quicksand. A majority of Americans -- even a majority of Republicans -- approve of the Iran Deal. Those in Donald Trump’s camp who don’t approve surely receive no benefit when he sabotages his capacity to govern effectively.

The real reason Donald Trump decertified the Iran Deal is simply because it felt good. Because the two times he already certified the deal, it felt bad. He doesn’t like contributing to someone else’s work, especially not his immediate predecessor. He doesn’t like admitting the truth that his rhetoric is overblown, even when his advisors and staff urge him not to strike a self-inflicted wound to his administration.

Most of all, he decertified the Iran Deal because he is right. The Iran Deal is a threat: a threat to Donald Trump. A threat to his dark and violent worldview, a perspective that insists “I alone can fix it,” that force is the only solution to difficult problems.

This attack on the Iran Deal opens up the latest front of Donald Trump’s assault on diplomacy. Last week, he heckled his own Secretary of State for seeking diplomatic solutions to the ever-worsening nuclear crisis in North Korea. Negotiations, he said, were a waste of time.

Donald Trump sold himself to the American people as a deal-maker, but the truth is that he doesn’t know how to negotiate a deal that involves hard work, patience, and compromise. To him, deal-making means using superior resources, influence, or power to force things to go his way -- when he can’t, he blows up the process.

The Iran Deal shows us what is down a path that Donald Trump doesn’t want to follow. For most of us, it is a vastly more appealing outcome than a war that threatens hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of lives. Diplomacy is the only sustainable option for lasting progress on nuclear proliferation, both in Iran and North Korea.

Donald Trump has chosen to make his country smaller and weaker so that he will feel less small, less weak. He has shown his hand. As long as diplomacy is a threat to him, he is a threat to us.

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