Deal or No Deal

First, Trump’s summit with Kim is almost definitely happening. I was wrong about that, and probably also to some extent about China pulling the strings, but I’ll talk about that on Friday. Point is, it’s still not the coup de grace Trump wants to you to think it is. So for today: Trump pulled out of the Iran deal last week. It was a terrible deal! they say. Worst deal ever made! We’ll make a better deal! So what does it mean for the US? For us? What’s next?

The representatives of the P5+1, Iran, and the EU smile as they complete the JCPOA

The representatives of the P5+1, Iran, and the EU smile as they complete the JCPOA

Let’s review how this all started. Here are the links to my past pieces on this if you want to go more in depth, but we all know you’re not gonna read them, so, briefly:

During Obama’s second term, the US sought to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. The international community had, for years, slowly ratcheted up sanctions that devastated Iran’s economy. Finally, they came to the table and made a deal with the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, Russia, China, France, UK) and also Germany (collectively known as the P5+1). The deal was, you stop making nuclear material for 15-20 years, let us come into your country and verify it pretty much whenever we want, and in return we’ll lift the sanctions and let your economy function.

The deal was successful in preventing Iran from even having the opportunity to build a bomb for at least the next 10 years, more likely 15, and even if they decided to break the deal, we’d know and we’d have at least a year to respond before they could even enrich enough uranium for a bomb.

But, there were drawbacks. First, instead of liberalizing and moderating, Iran used the new cash flow to increase its belligerent activity in the Middle East (much to the chagrin of its citizens expecting an economic boost – remember those protests?) which is what Trump meant when he said Iran wasn’t living up to the “spirit of the deal”. Second, eventually the deal would sunset and there would be nothing to stop Iran from pursuing the bomb once again (although there would be nothing to stop new sanctions either). Third, it didn’t cover ICBMs, the missiles they’d use to deliver such a bomb.

So, good deal? Bad deal? Reality is, it was the best deal they could get while maintaining consensus from all parties involved. The US could have done it unilaterally, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect or power. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s in the trash now.

Whether you think it was good or bad, pulling out in the way Trump did was the wrong move. Iran has held up its end of the deal, so when the US reimposes sanctions, it’ll be the US – not Iran – that breaks its promise. Everyone else who signed the deal has said they’ll maintain it, Iran included. Does that mean it survives? Technically yes, but realistically no: despite European governments saying they’ll stay in, the European companies doing business in Iran do too much business in the US to risk getting hit with secondary sanctions (“I won’t do business with you or anyone who does”). When Iran sees no benefit anymore, it’ll return to its weapons program, and the US will be blamed.

Trump says he’ll negotiate a better deal using “a campaign of maximum pressure”. The thing is, the previous deal was the result of just that – a long-term, multilateral, coordinated pressure campaign. And this time, our allies won’t be so willing to help us.

So when diplomacy and pressure fails to produce a new deal, our allies don’t support us, and Iran starts building a nuclear weapon, what do you think the President will do? What do you think his national security adviser, John Bolton, who previously advocated bombing Iran to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon, will tell the President to do?

Avengers: Infinity War, now out in theaters. #fpf