On Tuesday, President Trump announced that the United States is pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or, as it is commonly known, the Iran nuclear deal. During the decision Trump announced the US would be reapplying harsh sanctions on Iran which were not possible under the framework of the deal.
The decision signals the total end of the agreement. The basic framework of the deal was relief from sanctions for Iran in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons program. Though only one of seven countries involved (the UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia are also signatories), the US wields sufficient economic power to destroy the deal single-handedly. Though the three EU countries have insisted that they remain committed to the deal, Trump plans to give them an ultimatum: access to the Iranian market or access to the American market. The sanctions forbid US companies from doing business in Iran and impose penalties for any foreign companies which conduct business in Iran. With a choice between the relatively small Iranian market and Europe’s biggest trading partner in the US, it’s not hard to see where this is headed. European businesses, which have had large dealings with Iran since 2015 (the EU did $25 billion in trade with Iran last year compared to only $201 million for the US) are going to be forced to cut their losses. At that point, though the deal will still technically be in existence, Iran will have no incentive to follow the rules of the deal, as it will no longer be getting any benefit (China and Russia figure to continue trade with Iran no matter what). Regardless of any official withdrawal, the deal will be dead at this point.
This action doesn’t serve American interests in any meaningful way, but was done to benefit America’s “allies” in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but mostly our so-called greatest ally Israel. In fact, the decision was clearly made under pressure from Israel, which considers Iran its chief rival in the region. Iran is not a threat to the United States. Despite the endless repetition of the line that Iran is the “leading sponsor of terrorism” in the world, its actions have no impact on US national security. This phrase conflates the real threat of Sunni Islamic jihad, which is waged mostly through immigration, with Iran’s funding of Shia militias in the Middle East. They are labeled as terrorist groups because of their non-state nature (and because they run contrary to Israeli and Saudi interests), but they have no operations in the US or Europe. This is pure propaganda to get people to associate Iran with the Sunni Arab terrorism which has become a reality in the West.
This also negatively affects US relations with several countries and hurts its international reputation. The Europeans are not going to be pleased with Trump sabotaging billions of dollars in trade for them. They may increasingly look elsewhere for trade and to themselves for national security. On Thursday, Merkel talked about breaking away from America, saying, “Europe must take its destiny in its own hands. That’s the task of the future.” On the global scale, unilaterally ending a multilateral deal makes America look the part of the arrogant and destructive superpower that many countries believe it to be.
More than any other country, of course, it hurt relations with Iran. Protesters were seen burning American flags in the streets. A flag was even burned by lawmakers in the Iranian parliament as they chanted anti-American slogans:
It’s natural for Americans to react negatively to this behavior. But with the amount of meddling the US has done in that country since the 1953 coup, why would Iranians be fond of the United States? For decades America has been needlessly provoking a country we should leave alone and denying them self-government.
Losing diplomatic clout is one thing, but on Tuesday the chances of large scale war with Iran increased. Trump’s remarks indicated a willingness to go beyond sanctions. The decision was framed as one to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. With the deal that does so (if only for a period of years) scrapped, other routes must be taken. The first step is sanctions. However, though sanctions will hurt the Iranian economy, it is under the previous sanctions that Iran developed the nuclear program which precipitated the deal. If sanctions didn’t stop Iran before, why would they now that it is even more furious with the US and Israel? In fact, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif threatened to restart the program once sanctions are applied. In a situation where Iran ramps up its nuclear efforts in the near future, what does Trump do next? In his speech, he claimed that “If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before.” It sounds like regime change is on the table. And with his willingness to do the bidding of Israel, there is no reason to believe that Trump isn’t serious.
Already things have heated up between Iran and Israel. Israel is emboldened by Trump’s support and the weakening of the Iranian economic position. Iran is outraged and no longer has the incentive to moderate its behavior. The two countries exchanged missile fire in the days after the announcement. After the clashes, the Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman sent the ominous message that “If it rains in Israel it will pour in Iran.” This situation is very volatile, and it is only going to get worse. Because of its unconditional allegiance to Israel, the US is liable to get dragged into any major conflict which might ensue.