(May 9, 2018 / JNS) In announcing on May 8 that the United States would be immediately withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal—also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—U.S. President Donald Trump made an about-face on the deal negotiated barely three years by his immediate predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Obama and supporters contended at the time, and still contend, that lifting international sanctions and delivering billions of dollars in cash to the Islamic Republic would soften the dictatorial regime that routinely shouts “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”—the “big Satan” and “little Satan,” respectively—and would slow the pace of Iran’s nuclear development and ballistic-missile program.
In the years since the 2015 signing of JCPOA, Iranian aggression throughout the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, has increased exponentially, posing direct threats to some of America’s closest allies in the Middle East. At the same time, Israel’s recent presentation of secret Iranian nuclear documents, photographs and simulations has confirmed the worst fears of Iran’s neighbors: that Iran’s nuclear program is significantly more sophisticated than Iran had admitted or the International Atomic Energy Agency had been able to confirm.
Yet withdrawing from the JCPOA represents a radical shift in U.S. policy, confusing many European allies and world powers who were convinced by the previous administration to support a plan that now represents, at best, a failed attempt to subdue Iranian nuclear pursuits, or at worst, one of the biggest foreign-policy blunders in U.S. history.
And just as the signing of the JCPOA at the time represented a major milestone in the foreign-policy legacy of the Obama administration, Trump’s speech announcing America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal also portends to be among the president’s key foreign-policy initiatives, sending reverberations around the world.
According to David Wurmser, a former Mideast adviser to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and special assistant to John Bolton at the State Department, one of the most crucial elements of the president’s speech is “the signal that America has resumed its regional leadership role.”
“The period of American hesitance is over, and a deep sense of guilt over some past policies toward Iran or the Middle East has been replaced by unapologetic national confidence,” Wurmser tells JNS. “We confront our self-proclaimed enemies, not descend into quixotic efforts to appease them into more productive behavior.”
Wurmser suggests that by reversing the previous policy, the United States has “accepted the responsibility again of ensuring that American interests will drive policy, and that while our alliances are appreciated, they are to be understood in the context of interests, not instead of them.”
“Our national interests are absolute in informing our policy and take precedence over our international relations when the latter conflict with the former,” he said.
‘Re-anchored onto reality, rather than delusion’
Within the speech itself, Wurmser notes that specific messages were sent to major players around the world, and that one such party is the European Union, whose nations have announced that they prefer supporting the JCPOA. “Europe’s two-decade effort on the Iran file to manipulate America and Israel from adopting decisive policies by faux toughness and interminable diplomatic processes has been answered with clarity: keeping nuclear-weapons capability from Iran—as long as the Islamic regime survives—is the only aim and measure of success, not any diplomatic roadmap or multilateral yardsticks.”
He goes on to say that the merging of interests between Obama and European leaders that led to the Iran nuclear deal is part of “a crisis of reality gripping Western leadership for at least a decade” that featured a “festival of international structures, meetings and agreements,” which, he says “created an alternative world increasingly detached from reality.”
With Trump’s speech, Wurmser suggests that “the benchmarks of policy were re-anchored onto reality, rather than delusion.”
Striking hard at the core motivations and beliefs of European leaders, Wurmser says “the reaction of some European leaders—especially those who came from failed political ideologies like communism, but have found their fortunes in the E.U. framework, such as [High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] Frederica Mogherini—are rigidly frozen in the past edifices of delusion, whether it be Iran, the peace process or many other policies.”
Wurmser says such policies are “increasingly dividing Europe from the United States.”
“Europe is increasingly in need of a new political leadership,” he adds. “Until it emerges, the United States is finding itself increasing aligned with Jerusalem, rather London, Berlin or Paris on Middle Eastern issues.”