President Donald Trump’s critics often take him to task for his ignorance of policy and his unwillingness to listen to experts. The first is an unavoidable consequence of his lack of experience; the latter seems like a fatal combination of hubris and contempt for knowledge.
On some issues, Trump’s animus for experts might be a mistake. Yet for all of his manifold faults as a leader and his egregious personal shortcomings, Trump’s instinctual distrust of the foreign-policy establishment and his determination to ignore their advice is more than justified.
One example was Trump’s determination to flout conventional wisdom and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But there is no issue on which expertise has been more discredited by the so-called experts than Iran. With the appointment of John Bolton as the new National Security Advisor, the conflict between Trump and the experts has taken on a heightened importance. For the first time since taking office, Trump has a conservative foreign-policy team that is prepared to speak with one voice on Iran. Whereas Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor Gen. H. R. McMaster were determined to preserve the Iran deal rather than to push hard to improve or scrap it, the trio of Pompeo, Bolton and Haley all grasp its essential shortcomings.
That is why we’re hearing so much this week from the Iran “experts” including 100 former diplomats and military personnel who are speaking out against Trump’s desire to alter the Iran deal. The misnamed group calls itself the National Coalition to Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Weapon. That is a case of false labeling since their purpose is to keep in place an agreement that will guarantee Iran will get a nuclear weapon.
Some of the signatories to its proclamation, such as Gary Sick, who promulgated the hoax about Ronald Reagan plotting with the Iranians prior to his election as president, are entirely discredited. Others, like former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, are shameless profiteers since he is a lobbyist for Boeing, which, like many European firms, is making billions doing business with Iran.
Still other members of the group are sincere, even if, like Wendy Sherman, who was a principle figure in the Clinton administration’s appeasement of North Korea and then President Obama’s top negotiator with Iran, it would be more useful if they spent their time explaining their catastrophic mistakes rather than taking potshots at Trump.
As with most purveyors of the foreign-policy establishment’s conventional wisdom, the group can count on flattering media coverage, including a fawning news article about its efforts in The New York Times. If that wasn’t enough, the Times also published an op-ed by Sherman further explaining their position against Trump and Bolton’s stance on Iran.
Yet the closer you look at what Sherman and her colleagues are saying, the more it appears that expertise isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. They not only take the Iranian regime at its word when it promises that it won’t build a nuclear weapon, they also don’t seem to understand the agreement.
While some defenders of the pact simply say it was the best deal the West could get and that the alternative is to allow Iran to race to making a bomb, Sherman and friends actually claim the deal is sufficient to keep the Iranians from going nuclear even after its terms expire. They take issue with Trump’s efforts to get the Europeans to back an effort to renegotiate the deal or add on to it with new measures that will eliminate the sunset clauses, which end the restrictions on Iranian nuclear activity after a decade. They think that the West will have time to react if Iran moves to build a weapon after the deal is concluded in the not-so-distant future.
This shaky premise is hard to take seriously since it is based on the notion that Western intelligence knows everything going on in Iran. But since the minimal inspections required by the deal place Iranian military installations off-limits to inspectors, that simply is not a credible position.
The Iranians know that European and U.S. foreign-policy establishments already lack the guts or the interest to foreclose the possibility of a bomb after 10 years. Why should they or anyone else believe that the Europeans and anyone else profiting from the end of sanctions would support their eventual re-imposition? Who can trust—absent pressure from someone like Trump—that the West would act even if worst came to worst?
The deal does nothing to stop Iran from building missiles that could carry nukes. It has also resulted in a situation where an enriched and empowered Iran is expanding its support to terror groups and engaging in adventurism in Syria that risks war with a Jewish state it wishes to eliminate. The fact that it will allow Iran to eventually get a bomb should have been a deal-breaker. Those seeking to preserve it are, for all of their lip service to the perils of proliferation, essentially guaranteeing that Iran will get a weapon.
The notion that the United States is powerless to reverse this situation is rooted in weakness and the spirit of appeasement. That’s why Trump and Bolton are right to push for new negotiations. They will also be right to exert as much pressure as needed to force the Europeans to go along with more sanctions, so as to regain the leverage that Obama threw away in 2013 when he made it clear that he would pay any price for a deal. Doing so is not without risks, but the alternative is to simply sit back and wait for the worst to happen.
If the so-called “experts” don’t realize this, then their expertise is of no value. You don’t have to be a fan of Trump to see why he is correct in ignoring their advice and instead, willing to listen to Pompeo, Bolton and Haley as America finally resolves to undo the damage that Obama and his minions have done.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.