President Trump’s official announcement that he will not certify the Iran deal, as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is known, set off a series of predictable and negative consequences.
First, the European Union made clear that it does not agree with Trump’s move. “Our message is that we remain attached to the J.C.P.O.A,” a senior European diplomat reportedly said. “Our feeling is that there will not be any other agreement.” This is not only a rebuke of the president’s declaration that Iran has violated the spirit of the deal; it is also, for now, a flat-out refusal to renegotiate it or negotiate an add-on. Moving ahead with his announcement when the E.U. clearly had this position was reckless in the extreme. Remember when Republicans chided the Obama administration for putting daylight between the United States and Israel? This is at least as dangerous.
Second, it seems that not a single Democrat, even those who opposed the JCPOA, has had anything positive to say. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), an opponent of the JCPOA, put out a persuasive statement, which read in part:
I strongly disagree with the President’s reckless, political decision and his subsequent threat to Congress. At a moment when the United States and its allies face a nuclear crisis with North Korea, the President has manufactured a new crisis that will isolate us from our allies and partners, compromising our ability to employ a diplomatic surge on the Korean Peninsula. Despite his assertions to the contrary, the President’s rhetoric and actions today directly threaten U.S. national security and damage our credibility and reputation on the world stage. . . .
Unfortunately, the President has failed to implement the sanctions on Iran passed overwhelmingly by Congress in July and has chosen a path that makes addressing all other elements of a comprehensive Iran policy more difficult by imposing self-inflicted international isolation on the United States.
Rather than help the United States obtain leverage, Cardin rightly asserts that “the President has opened up the United States to international criticism and challenge.” He also chides the president for failing to lead. “Instead, he is abdicating his leadership role to Congress, just like with Dreamers and just like with affirming and strengthening our health care system,” he said. “It is a troubling pattern. We will not buy into the false premise that it is Congress’ role to legislate solutions to problems of his own making.”
That sounds as if Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) will have a hard time rounding up support. If Corker squints, however, he might see a crack of daylight. “Moving forward, I am ready to work with my colleagues to ensure that U.S. national security is protected despite the President’s dangerous announcement today. It is now up to Congress to show the world that there is bipartisan support for the United States to uphold its commitments, including the JCPOA.” That might entail new sanctions for non-nuclear activities, or it might entail support for the announced move to sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Maybe Corker can find some face-saving gesture that will satisfy Democrats and the president.
To that end, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), another JCPOA opponent, suggested, “I believe we should collectively address areas of the nuclear agreement that require clarification as it continues to be implemented, insist on early negotiations to deal with the sunset consequences of the present agreement, while we simultaneously ratchet up efforts to more aggressively counter Iran’s non-nuclear destabilizing activities,” he said in a written statement. “To that end, my colleagues and I introduced bipartisan legislation earlier this year to counter Iran’s support for terrorism, ballistic missile activity and egregious human rights abuses — legislation that ultimately became the basis for the package of sanctions targeting Russia, North Korea, and Iran approved by Congress in a veto-proof vote. Unfortunately, the Administration has yet to fully utilize all of the sanction tools we provided them.”
Over in the House, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Democrat, Eliot Engel (N.Y.), who also opposed the JCPOA, was equally negative. “The President’s plan doesn’t make sense. Negotiating additional terms to the nuclear deal requires a coalition of international partners, not unilateral congressional action,” he said in a written statement. “And while we must crack down on Iran’s other destabilizing actions — ballistic-missile development, sponsorship of terrorism, human-rights abuses, and support for the Assad Regime — Congress already passed tough sanctions against Iran, Russia, and North Korea last August, which the President grudgingly signed. But the Administration seems unwilling to enforce this new law.”
In short, at least on Day One of the new Iran policy, Trump has isolated the United States from allies, lost bipartisan support from Congress, shifted attention away from Iran’s non-nuclear conduct (e.g. support for terrorism, intercontinental ballistic missiles tests) to the United States’ hints about not living up to the deal. To boot, he revealed that his administration is incapable of doing the legwork needed to carry off a risky scheme that apparently was designed to pacify him after his reported “fit” after the previous certification. Other than that, it’s going great.