Donald Trump was expected to refuse to recertify the Iran nuclear deal. He did that on Friday.
But the president did much more than signal his personal disapproval of Tehran’s compliance with an agreement that the Obama administration and international allies reached in 2015 to avert the development of nuclear weapons by the Iranians. In a bombastic address, Trump pointed toward a dramatic ramping up of hostility toward a country that international observers and even his own aides indicate has been in compliance with the nuclear deal.
The president’s pronouncements on Friday were not merely at odds with the facts regarding the agreement. They steered the United States away from diplomacy and toward a more charged—and potentially far more dangerous—relationship with Iran. They also distanced the United States from its allies. As former vice president Joe Biden explained on Friday, “Unilaterally putting the Iran deal at risk does not isolate Iran. It isolates us.”
Trump did not seem to recognize that prospect, let alone to understand the consequences of a go-it-alone strategy that will make the United States an international outlier.
In his televised speech to the nation Friday, the president said he wanted Congress to set new benchmarks that Iran would be required to meet in order to avoid nuclear-related sanctions. He bluntly declared that the deal “will be terminated” if no plan is reached to radically alter the agreement.
The president’s over-heated language was decried by serious observers of the deal and of US relations with Iran. “Make no mistake: With his announcement today, President Trump is putting America at risk,” announced Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who explained that:
Most immediately, this reckless decision could give Iran a path to back out of the nuclear deal and resume its race to a nuclear bomb. A nuclear-armed Iran could become the single greatest national security threat we face and would be an immediate existential threat to Israel. At a time when our own intelligence agencies and every international monitor says that Iran is in compliance with the strict limits and monitoring of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), blowing up this agreement is the definition of a self-inflicted wound.
Trump rubbed the wound raw with remarks that pointed toward a significant intensification of US hostility toward Iran. The president accused Tehran of stirring “chaos” in the Middle East and beyond. He labeled the Iranian government as “fanatical regime” and accused it of spreading “death, destruction and chaos around the globe.” Directing the Treasury Department to impose new sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—which the White House identified as a “primary tool and weapon in remaking Iran into a rogue state”—Trump took steps that the administrations of Barack Obama and George W. Bush carefully avoided.