Donald Trump is pulling out of the Iran deal. This is to his great credit. Once again — leaving the Paris accords and moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem also come to mind — the president has resisted pressure from the Europeans and the great and good in our country in order to make a decision in keeping with our interests.
The Iran deal is a travesty and a boon to the regime. In short, Iran entered into years-long negotiations with the West over whether it would have a nuclear program, during the course of which it developed a nuclear program. The deal allowed it to preserve a temporarily curtailed program in exchange for the shipment of $1.7 billion in cash to Iran — part of it clearly a ransom payment for the release of U.S. hostages — and relief from Western sanctions that had begun to bite.
For the mullahs, it was the deal of the century. It was less a nonproliferation agreement than a deal to pay for its proliferation.
The economic benefits of the accord were predictably poured into Iran’s expansion around the region. Rather than a new era of peace, the deal has coincided with more widespread conflict in the Middle East. Iran is now at the borders of Israel and Saudi Arabia via its own forces and proxies in Syria and Yemen. It has aided Bashar al-Assad’s destruction of his own country so he can continue to rule the hollowed-out remains. It continues its attempted takeover of Iraq. It supports terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Taliban. Wherever there is discord in the region, there are the Iranians, fueling the conflict and supporting the nastiest actors.
The Iran deal takes no account of this activity in exchange for what is, in the best case, a pause in the Iranian nuclear program. Since the West isn’t allowed to inspect military sites, it is entirely possible that Iran is flagrantly cheating on the deal. Even if it isn’t, the deal allows the Iranians to bide their time — mustering their economic strength, cementing commercial ties with Europe — until restrictions on its nuclear program begin to lapse in less than a decade.
The deal does nothing to check Iran’s missile program, indeed gives it more running room, even though it would be easier to verify a stoppage in missile activity than the nuclear program.
The president is right to recoil from all of this. The challenge, as always, is to craft something better. Presumably, the Europeans and Iran will attempt to preserve the agreement. Much will depend on whether Trump is willing to squeeze the Europeans with secondary sanctions that make them choose between us and the Iranians. And it makes no sense to rip up the deal if Trump isn’t willing to back a comprehensive anti-Iran strategy that means staying engaged in Syria and Iraq.
Perhaps a better deal can emerge under Trump’s prodding, but it is more likely that we will need to work to contain, deter, and pressure Iran on all fronts over the long term. Trump ended his speech by speaking directly to the Iranian people and saying they deserve better than their terror-supporting government that is in a state of enmity with much of the world. He’s right, and his decision to pull out of the Iran deal is a welcome sign that, unlike his predecessor, he is willing to see the mullahs for what they are.