May 9, 2018
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was right about one thing: President Trump is a moron.
Trump and the people he listens to argue that the agreement Iran made with the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union was a bad deal. He wants a better deal. Specifically, a Trump Deal would:
President Obama decided to focus on the nuclear issue and settled for shrinking and freezing Iran’s nuclear program for 15 years with the hope that, during that period, we could build on the deal. Many of us thought that was a lot better than nothing, and we have had ideas for next steps that would build on the deal. In particular, our idea has been to prevent competing national enrichment programs across the Persian Gulf by putting all enrichment in the region under the control of a multinational organization.
President Trump has not tried to negotiate a better deal himself. Instead, he gave the Europeans and Congress four months to negotiate a better deal. Also, he did not put anything more on the table. Indeed, since he came into office, he has worked to make meaningless the lifting of the sanctions, which is what the Iranians got in the deal.
President Trump also is telling the Iranians that, even though the United States is now formally reneging on lifting the sanctions, Iran had better not ramp its nuclear program back up—or else.
The “or else” is clearly a threat that the United States will bomb Iran’s nuclear and military sites. That is what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the leaderships of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates want. They see Iran as a threat even without a nuclear program. Ideally, they would like to see regime change in Teheran.
There is, of course, a precedent for the United States carrying out regime change in Iran. We did it 65 years ago in 1953, after Iran’s first democratically elected secular government nationalized the British-owned oil company in Iran. We replaced that government with a dictator who was overthrown in 1979. Then we backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran and turned a blind eye to Saddam’s use of poison gas against Iran (as well as against Iraq’s rebellious Kurds).
We have forgotten this history, but the Iranians have not. They have their reasons for calling the United States “The Great Satan.”
In 2013, the Iranians elected President Rouhani on a platform to move Iran back toward democracy and to integrate it with the rest of the world. Rather than welcoming that effort, President Trump is confirming, by his actions, the argument of Rouhani’s hardline opponents, who say that they are the ones who can best defend Iran’s independence from the United States.
Of course Iran’s hopes for democracy are not the only ones this president is undermining. Many of us see him attacking our own democracy. Given that, it may turn out in some ways to be a blessing that Trump is not competent but rather, as Secretary Tillerson described him, a moron.
Frank von Hippel
Program on Science and Global Security