The Washington Post | Jennifer Rubin: President Trump entered office after promising to tear up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy accomplishment. Like many in the foreign policy community (including some Democrats), we had concerns that the JCPOA’s sunset clause would allow Iran to achieve nuclear breakout at a time of its choosing, that the deal did not include controls on Iran’s anti-ballistic-missile program and that the inspection rules were insufficiently stringent. Nevertheless, the threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout was pushed back, and having worked in tandem with allies we had the chance to jointly address the ABM issue as well as Iran’s regional aggression, human rights atrocities and support for terrorism.
Trump decided to pull out of the JCPOA at a time Iran was in full compliance and when our allies remained fully committed to the deal. What next? Somehow Trump and his enablers expected the European Union to drop the deal as well, reinstate sanctions (although China and Russia plainly would not) and “force” Iran to the table. The result of that move, as we predicted, was to split the West, make us look like international scofflaws and move Iran not one inch closer to renegotiating the JCPOA.
Realizing Trump’s policy was insufficient at best and counterproductive at worst, the Trump administration began saber-rattling (initially with over-the-top rhetoric from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, more recently with national security adviser John Bolton and troop movements) and threatening allies with secondary sanctions (further angering allies who have often been treated worse than America’s enemies by this administration).
In an about-face, Trump morphed into a caricature of a peacenik, excusing the belligerent actions of the brutal North Korean dictator and insisting that we give peace a chance. He groveled before Kim Jong Un and declared that he was unconcerned with testing, likely in violation of United Nations edicts. In an effort to tamp down anxiety he had stirred up over another military conflict in the Middle East, Trump now retreats, relieving Iran from whatever concern the mullahs had about American military action.
The Post reports:
President Trump on Monday denied that the United States is seeking regime change in Iran, dialing back hawkish rhetoric days after ordering 1,500 additional U.S. troops to the region. …
“We’re not looking for regime change. I want to make that clear,” Trump said at a joint news conference Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.” …
Trump’s meeting with Abe on Monday focused partly on the possibility that relations between the United States and Iran could improve. Trump told reporters that Abe has a “very good relationship with Iran.”
That could set the stage for U.S. talks with Iran, Trump suggested, saying that “I do believe Iran would like to talk and if they’d like to talk, we’ll talk also. … Nobody wants to see terrible things happen, especially me.”
Trump has likely managed to confuse his aides, our allies, Iran and Congress. (“Trump’s relatively conciliatory words marked a contrast with some of his recent statements and those of some top aides,” The Post reported. “Trump has often delivered conflicting messages on foreign policy, veering from sharp criticism to diplomacy, frequently leaving the allies and adversaries alike unsure about where he stands.”)
To recap, Trump has divided the West, weakened our hand with Iran and reminded Iran that Trump is all bark and no bite. Meanwhile, while we could have remained in the JCPOA and obtained allies’ assistance in going after Iran’s non-nuclear conduct, the E.U. is in no mood to cooperate, facing the wrath of Trump sanctions if it continues to abide by the Iran deal.
To top it off, in place of a Western alliance, Trump has made Saudi Arabia the linchpin of his Middle East policy (to the extent there is such a thing); the Saudis have taken that as carte blanche to commit atrocities in Yemen and become a more repressive, violent regime — going so far as to murder American-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In trying to keep his relationship (diplomatic, but maybe personal/financial as well) from crumbling, Trump let Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman off the hook for Khashoggi’s murder. This egregious conduct angered both parties in Congress, prompting votes to reject our support for the Yemen war. Pompeo further eroded his own credibility by misleading Congress about the evidence tying the crown prince to Khashoggi’s murder.
Trump’s incoherence breeds confusion and chaos, soon morphing into embarrassment and a loss of credibility for the United States. Allies have no reason to trust us; foes have no reason to fear us. Americans should be tired of losing by now.