What will Trump’s Iran-deal withdrawal do to trust in the U.S.?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Donald Trump announcing his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House on Tuesday.

Of course you’ve heard or read by now about President Trump’s much-telegraphed decision to pull out of the multilateral deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

I view it as a mistake, and a big one. I hope time will prove me wrong. I lack the technical knowledge to assess all the issues (as, I’m confident, does the current incumbent). Trump’s own secretary of defense, Gen. James Mattis, who I believe understands the pros and cons as they affect national security better than does his boss (or me), said the JCPOA was working and he opposed scrapping it.

Trump has not, and I suspect cannot, make a coherent explanation of the pros and cons of the deal. Sadly, it’s easy to suspect, as I do, that breaking the deal is mostly part of his ongoing campaign to diminish the accomplishments of his predecessor, Barack Obama, whom he despises. Trump also bills himself as a great deal-maker, so perhaps his vanity got in the way of him respecting a deal he didn’t make. One begins to suspect that the man may have some ego issues.

What now?

As you know, there is a possibility that the other signatories will find a way to keep Iran in the framework of the deal, although, obviously, they will have to agree to changes to incentivize Iran to stay in the deal, and I doubt those changes, if they can be negotiated, will strengthen the deal from a U.S. perspective.

(Dare I mention that there is nothing in international law that authorizes the United States to decide who can and can’t have nukes.)

I want to make only one fairly obvious point that perhaps isn’t made often enough. The deal was not between the United States and Iran. Its signatories included those two nations, plus Russia, China and the European Union, and that last group includes many if not most of America’s best friends in the world.

Trump’s ill-advised decision leaves the other signatories in a bad position. For those signatories that are U.S. allies (including NATO allies) having America in the deal was a big plus and agreeing to the deal was also a display of NATO solidarity. The U.S. withdrawal is for them a big minus, and most of them were obviously hoping Trump was bluffing (or huffing and puffing).

Those U.S. allies often follow Washington’s lead on matters like this, and they did follow the U.S. lead in joining the JCPOA. They are not interested in joining the U.S. lead in breaking the deal. They hope to patch it together and persuade Iran to continue complying. I have no idea how that effort will play out. The deal is worth less to Iran with the United States out of it.

The trust issue

The one obvious point to which I alluded above is this: Many of our best allies in the world signed on to this deal under U.S. leadership, believing that it was the best approach to the danger of a nuclear Iran. Now they are left holding the bag by the withdrawal of their superpower ally. I fear that in light of Trump’s decision announced Tuesday, they are wondering whether trusting in, relying on and following the lead of the United States is as safe  a bet as it used to be.

And then there’s the same problem from the point of view of other U.S. adversaries who find themselves negotiating with Washington.

The administration sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Peek to the PBS Newshour last night to defend Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran deal. The Newshour’s William Brangham asked: “What about the problem that this jeopardizes our credibility, raises the question of whether our word can be taken? [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo is on his way to North Korea right now, starting negotiations about their nuclear program. If the North Koreans are looking at what the president has done in tearing up this existing deal [with Iran], why should North Korea believe we’ll keep to our word in a deal with them?”

Poor Peek. His reply: “Because I think they can be sure he wants a good deal; just not a bad deal.”

Very reassuring.

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Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Roy Everson on 05/09/2018 - 09:08 am.

    Bizarro Exceptionalism

    His lack of a coherent case should be just that, but it’s worse. He regurgitates the tried and failed talking points of George W. Bush. Iran must not be allowed to threaten American cities. Their development of nukes is imminent. Iran is due for regime change and it’s America’s call. Ignore international weapons inspectors.

    For two out of three presidents to spout this nonsense is to test the limits of the planet’s tolerance for bizarro Exceptionalism. Of the numerous damages Trump has caused so far, this may be near the top of the list..

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/09/2018 - 09:32 am.

    Who is Happy About This?

    Is this such a bad thing? A lot of political figures around the world are very, very happy with this deal. How can we deny them their joy?

    They have good reason. The hardliners in Iran are happy, because this proves their argument that the US cannot be trusted to honor its international commitments. They will now say–with some justification–that they are free to pursue a nuclear weapons program. In addition, the continuing free-fall of the Iranian economy will strengthen their domestic political hand against any domestic liberalizing forces (“See what happens?”). Score one for the mullahs.

    Kim Jong-un is also thrilled. He now has a plausible excuse for not trusting American commitments. President Trump has already derided past efforts at a peaceful resolution to the issues of Korea, and now he has a documented history of tearing up agreements just because he decided he doesn’t like them. Of course, Kim can point to his own peaceful intentions by pointing out that he firs suggested talks and a denuclearization agreement. After all, he was willing to bend but how does he know that the Americans will live up to their part of the bargain?

    Prim Minister Netanyahu is happy, if for no reason other than he has further confirmation of how far he can push the administration of Donald “America First” Trump. Will it lead to war between Israel and Iran? Who cares? The US will step in!

    Putin and Xi Jinping probably can’t help but crack smiles at this further erosion of American authority in Central Asia and the Middle East. Geopolitics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. What nation states have the resources and clout to step in to support the Iranian regime, and to position themselves as honest brokers in the region (hint: it ain’t Lesotho)?

    Of course, it would be churlish to overlook the delight of our own President. This is another step in achieving the twin goals of his presidency: self-aggrandizement, and being the anti-Obama (President Obama’s Jungian shadow, if you will).

    So it’s smiles all around today. It’s just that people are smiling for all the wrong reasons.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/09/2018 - 09:45 am.

    The (N. Korean) Dear Leader

    I think the North Korean Dear Leader (I feel it’s necessary to be specific) has a as good a grasp of Don Trump’s motivations as anyone. His primary motivation is to wreck whatever Obama accomplished, be it the ACA, the Iran deal, or overtime pay for lowly retail & fast food managers. Next up is to accomplish whatever Obama could not, whether it’s a good deal or not. The Dear Leader knows this well.

    Don Trump just sold a New York hotel to a Saudi prince (‘Merica first!). Trump’s cost was $950M, he sold it for $600M, though I suspect his loses would have been worse if he paid all of his contractors. With a “deal maker” like that on our side of the table, Kim won’t sign a deal that doesn’t work for him, if he signs one at all. Just as the Saudis played Trump by, among other things, imposing a huge image of Trump on his hotel during his Saudi stay, Kim knows it’s easy to play an insecure narcissist like Don Trump.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/09/2018 - 10:03 am.


    There is an asymmetry in global politics in that people in other countries are much more aware and much more knowledgeable about America, it’s politics and it’s culture than we are of theirs. Largely, this is because they have watched so many episodes of Law and Order. Because of this, they have formed a number of opinions and more than a few prejudices about things American including our politics. They have learned lately, although not all that lately, that America’s word in global affairs is not to be trusted. They know that presidential terms are short, and that there is little continuity in our politics. But they also know that even though we are unreliable, and largely indifferent to the political concerns of others, we also have a great deal of power on the international stage.

  5. Submitted by David Markle on 05/09/2018 - 10:54 am.

    Art of the Deal?

    To appropriately invert a trite expression, there’s no daylight in undoing this deal.

    Trump has reached a new level of foolishness in this act which in all its aspects can have only bad consequences..

  6. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/09/2018 - 11:14 am.

    What scares me about this ignorant president’s decision to honor his campaign promises, no matter what consequences, is that all the military people in the world recognize that Trump is probably leading the US to a new war in the Middle East.

    Netanyahu has pushed Trump to withdraw from the Iran anti-nuclear pact, but Israeli military leaders are opposed to it. We don’t know what Saudi military folks want, because Trump and the One-Man-Ruler of Saudi Arabia don’t have to pay any attention to them. The U. S. Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, is opposed to Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran anti-nuclear pact; Mattis knows war, and he knows how the pact with Iran is very good for the Middle East, for Europe, for the U.S, and the world.

    Do Americans really want another war in the Middle East, caused by the US?

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 05/12/2018 - 11:32 am.

      Why complain now ?

      We had 8 years of Obama and 8 years of Clinton before that

      – Do tell if either of them (including Hillary Clinton) forcefully stood up for American values against Netanyahu. If you feel they did, do tell how did it work out ?

      – Do tell if either of them (including Hillary Clinton) forcefully stood up for American values against Saudi Arabia.

      – Ditto for Egypt, Syria…you get the picture.

      – Finally do tell, if Mrs Clinton were president – even for 8 years, what would have been different for a) Palestinians b) Demonizing Iran c) Egyptian people. Could the answer be nothing.

      So what is the complaining all about ? When the left had a chance they did something. That something was …… NOTHING.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/14/2018 - 09:30 am.

        When Does it Stop?

        Obama had a notoriously poor relationship with Mr. Netanyahu. I don’t think the Prime Minister was especially enamored of Senator Clinton, either.

        Whatever happened in the past, one would think that the President who promised to put America first would be doing just that. He has been so willing to be the anti-Obama that reversing a course of dealing should have been a priority.

        “We had 8 years of Obama and 8 years of Clinton before that.” Yes, I would like to forget the GW Bush years, too.

  7. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 05/09/2018 - 12:56 pm.

    Wait…you mean to tell me we elected a guy who actually did exactly and precisely what he said he would do? Be still my beating heart!

    This is exactly the right thing to do. The previous President negotiated this agreement to give him a talking point, something else for the MSM to describe as “historic”…at the expense of giving genocidal maniacs tacit permission to build nuclear weapons in 10 years.

    As I recall at the time, several prominent leftist politicians voiced their objections to it, notably Chuck Schumer:


    But somehow, it morphed into something the left is froze to defend. Was it the missile testing? The attack and capture of a US Navy boat? The support of Syria? What did the Democrats find so appealing?

    No; it’s not gonna fly anymore y’all. We have a President who is negotiating in the best interests of America. Learn to deal with it.

    As to Norko, I heard they just released 3 US citizens. Is that a description of the hardball the author is prophisizing? Lol.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/09/2018 - 05:25 pm.

      Two of the three

      of the U.S. citizens that NK released were captured during Trump’s own presidency.
      So at best he ‘solved’ a problem that was his own creation. An obvious setup.
      Kim is playing Trump like a fiddle.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 05/10/2018 - 01:56 pm.

        Help me out here.Are you

        Help me out here.

        Are you saying you believe two of those guys volunteered to be put in Norko prison, or is it you believe Trump kidnapped them and turned them over so he could get them released?

        Waiting with much anticipation for your response.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/09/2018 - 08:25 pm.


      Enlighten me: Why is this the right thing to do? What does the new deal look like? Please explain why Iran should not be capable of defending themselves against aggressive neighbors, they live in a tough neighborhood. Seems there was a Iraq /Iran war not that long ago and Iran had ballistic missiles dropped on their heads. Please also provide some back ground on “genocidal maniacs”? Wouldn’t be like starting a war in Iraq that has dropped ~ 500 K, Afghanistan ~ 210K? Didn’t know that “T” was the world emperor that gives permission to all other global minion countries, did I miss the Emperors coronation? Could you please also provide some support on how the entire Obama administration did nothing for the best interests of America over 8 years? Please also be specific how they did nothing to get us out of the great recession, should they all be tried as traitors? So please teach, how to “deal with it.”

  8. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/09/2018 - 01:04 pm.

    The Trump Mess

    The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) possibly had the most diverse group of signatories ever accomplished. I don’t understand how retreating from the JCPOA makes us safer. As I understand it, there was an agreement in place, which was working. It did have sunset dates, which Trump could have negotiated to strengthen between now and then. Now, we have nothing.
    Trump’s only doctrine for EVERYTHING is that if President Obama’s name is associated with it, he must remove it and It doesn’t have to make sense. I’m not sure if Trump’s motive is racist based, ego based, or both. It seems he is willing to trash anyone or anything that gets in his way, much like a dictator. He is even willing to sacrifice his own family members, much like a dictator.
    I don’t understand how isolationism benefits the US. The dangerous world we live in is not best for us when we go it alone. A lack of trust among our possibly former allies is not beneficial. Trump acts like he doesn’t need our allies now and if we need them in the future, they’ll be there for us. It is a very reckless, weak-minded strategy.
    If Trump leaves at the end of this term or sooner, there will be a massive mess to clean up that will take many decades to fix. I hope the voters can get it right in November or America will be in bigger trouble than it already is. I have zero medical training but my summation of all I filter through, trying to get to the truth and sensibility, leads me to a conclusion that we have a very ill man in the White House. Meanwhile our feckless Congress sits on their hands.

  9. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 05/09/2018 - 01:11 pm.


    Our “nobody but me can do this” leader just shut down a country that we have a 2:1 trade surplus with. I think that means when we restore our sanctions, the Iranians will take their trade deficit and fill it elsewhere. And their are several other nations in the agreement that will be happy to take their business.

    So; we become more isolated, everyone else see’s an economic gain and the Iranians look like the wise and rational players in this game.

    Only an administration as incompetent as the present one could make such a boneheaded decision.

    Lookout for the North Korea outcome too. Trump is hot for a deal and will accept anything if he thinks he get’s the Nobel simply because Obama got one too and his whole administration is based on whatever Obama did.

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/09/2018 - 02:25 pm.

    What would any rational world leader think of all this ?

    The US has turned into one of the many ill-governed countries in the world where the leader decides all by whim and the compliant legislature follows behind. And as is in so many of those countries, the best way to get what you want is personal flattery and enrichment.

    Welcome to the reality of much of the world, you uppity Americans.

    The “shining city on the hill” is really a rat-infested swamp.

  11. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/10/2018 - 01:55 pm.

    Didn’t take long

    According to the news wire this morning France and Germany are already starting to split with the US, “Europe can no longer rely on US protection”, Putin JR’s efforts to bust up NATO and isolate the USA are all in motion. So lets take inventory, (NAFTA Trashed, no replacement) (TPP Trashed no replacement) (JCPA trashed no replacement) (DACA trashed no replacement) (Paris accord trashed no replacement) (ACA being trashed no replacement), (EPA-trashed), (CPB Trashed), Medicaid trashed, Deficit Spending control Trashed Won’t be long before we have (MADE AMERICA GROTESQUE AGAIN) Trust us? If I were any other country in the world, based on the last 16 months I would not trust the word of the US in a game of checkers!

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/10/2018 - 04:10 pm.

      Adult Onset Oppositional Defiance Disorder

      You’d almost think that a large share of the American voting population wants to elect people who just want to break things.

  12. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 05/10/2018 - 01:57 pm.

    “Please explain why Iran should not be capable of defending themselves against aggressive neighbors, they live in a tough neighborhood.”

    The lengths some leftists will go to….smh

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/10/2018 - 05:05 pm.

      Let’s see….

      Which Mideastern country has a large stock of nuclear weapons?
      Which Mideastern country has been purchasing large quantities of American weapons?
      (Hint — these are two different nations).

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 05/10/2018 - 08:18 pm.

      A please explain for you:

      Countries A and B are bitter, long standing enemies.

      Countries A and B have similar wealth, technology and desires for autonomy and security.

      Country A has the ability to destroy Country B at will, with minimal retaliatory response from B.

      Country B desperately wants parity with A to insure its’ security.

      Country C says, “tough, we have decided you will never have security parity with our friends over at A”

      This is simply not a feasible, long term solution. The long term need for parity will be filled by either B finding a way to gaining destructive ability or A backing down to B’s destructive capabilities. One or the other is absolutely inevitable over the long term.

      Israel knows that the USA will always ultimately have its’ back. A nuclear free Mid East is the best outcome and it is time to work towards that.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/10/2018 - 08:21 pm.

      Keeping up with the Trumps….

      …..“As president of the United States, I will always put America first. Just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first,” Trump said to a round of muted applause.

      The centerpiece of Trump’s speech was the idea that every nation is best served by embracing its own independence. “Strong sovereign nations let their people take ownership of the future and control their own destiny,” he said. He defended the US’s right to push back against the norms of international trade, lamented the costs of immigration on countries, and said that the US has no interest in dictating how other countries should conduct their own affairs.

      Trump declared that the “true” question for the people of the world today can be reduced to a single query: “Are we still patriots?”

      “Do we love our nations enough to protect their sovereignty and to take ownership of their futures?” he asked as nervous murmur filled the chamber….

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/11/2018 - 01:19 pm.

      While You’re S’ing Your H

      Reflect that a just right of self-defense attaches always to nations, as well as to individuals, and is equally necessary for the preservation of both.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/12/2018 - 05:45 pm.

    The trust train long since left the station

    Anyone with any sense has long since realized that neither Trump, or the government he runs, can be trusted.

    Ironically, Trump is probably doing the international community a favor by promoting more independent policy. Other nations will now decide whether or not Trumps sanctions should be supported. They have good reason to ignore Trump’s “lead” and keep the accord afloat without US participation. This would be a serious break that would bring the US into direct conflict with it’s own allies as well as it’s trade rivals. The question is whether or not the agreement can still function without US participation. In many ways Trump’s gambit could end up strengthening trade with Iran in order to compensate for the loss of US trade. Trump is simply leading the US into a swamp of irrelevancy… I’m not sure that’s an entirely bad thing.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/14/2018 - 11:14 am.

    Meanwhile, Bolton chimes in…

    So Bolton is now saying that our allies should have known Trump would pull out of the deal… So how come I KNOW that our allies knew Trump was going put out but Bolton doesn’t? Bolton does not bode well for our policy decisions. The Europeans are not idiots, of course they saw this coming.

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