In the hours after President Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the so-called Iran deal, I’ve seen an avalanche of commentary condemning Trump for “breaking America’s word.” Here’s a (small) sampling of the critiques:
Trump’s announcement “breaks America’s word.”
And no public controversy would be complete without a liberal comedian “shredding” Trump. So of course, Stephen Colbert weighed in:
Honestly, of all the critiques of Trump’s decision, this is the least credible. President Obama had a chance to make a true “American” promise by submitting the Iran deal as a treaty. But he knew that America wouldn’t make that deal. He knew that most of the Senate (including a number of Democrats) were opposed to the deal. Thus, as Andrew McCarthy notes, the Iran deal “did not represent America’s word, it represented Obama’s word.” Under the American system, one president’s pledge does not bind the next president. There is a constitutional process for securing enduring international obligations.
Moreover, this constitutional process is wise. Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution gives the president the power to make treaties, “provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” This means it’s difficult to secure a true American promise in the absence of strong American consensus. America’s international partners and rivals can read and understand our Constitution. They know every time they enter into a “deal” absent this ratification that they are accepting a measure of risk.
It’s astonishing how much of the Obama foreign and domestic legacy depended on the Democrats allegedly enjoying a hammerlock on the presidency. The “coalition of the ascendant” would guarantee control of the executive branch, and control of the executive branch would lock into place Obama’s executive actions. It’s no coincidence that the portion of the Obama legacy that most endures — Obamacare — also happens to be the portion that was passed not just by statute, but most of it through a filibuster-proof majority.
In other words, if a president wants to preserve his policies, he should follow constitutional processes.
Finally, I sincerely doubt that if the next Democratic president ends a Trump-era foreign policy that these same people will lament America’s broken “word.” Instead, they’ll hail the new direction — just as most conservatives are today. Donald Trump didn’t break an American promise. He corrected an American mistake.