RICHARD BUTLER. US and the Iran Agreement: True Lies and Chaos.May 14, 2018
In explaining his decision on the US leaving the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA), President Trump told a number of true lies. His National Security Advisor, John Bolton, then told the truth: it was to conform with Israel’s wishes. Israel and Iran commenced hostilities in Syria, immediately.
In his performance on television, announcing his decision, Trump’s statement heaped hyperbolic scorn upon JCPOA. His claims were fabrications: not fake news, just true lies.
Iran’s obligations under JCPOA are well known and, perfectly summarized by Ramesh Thakur in Pearls and Irritations ( 9th of May, 2018), so not necessary to be repeated here.
The central point is that the IAEA has certified that Iran is adhering to them. Thus, any weapons programme it may have been pursuing has been halted. The IAEA confirms and Iran does not dispute, that it had pursued a nuclear weapons programme until 2003, but then halted it. The US intelligence community, including the CIA, had agreed to this assessment, at least until the advent of the Trump administration.
A week prior to Trump’s announcement, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, staged his own television show, claiming that Israel possessed evidence of a continuing Iranian clandestine nuclear weapons programme. Informed analysis of his contentions and purported evidence indicated that he had presented nothing that was not already known, no new evidence of such a programme.
His performance was carefully timed propaganda, reprising his earlier efforts at the UN General Assembly and a joint sitting of the US Congress, We will perhaps never know exactly how and with whom it was coordinated. But, we do know its outcome: the US withdrawal from JCPOA.
Should there be doubt about this analysis, it was removed by John Bolton’s op-ed in the Washington Post the following day. Having rehearsed the purported flaws in JCPOA, there is a truly remarkable and lengthy diversion into the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to be implemented, the following day. The non-sequitur involved is remarkable and revealing. This effort by Bolton, while robustly loyal to Trump’s agenda, amply satisfies the hallowed principle that; if one listens carefully enough to what people say, you will discover their truth, no matter how they might try to conceal it.
Bolton’s loyal participation in Trump’s addiction to lying is also on full display when he claims that, in addition to fulfilling Israel’s wishes, another effect of the decision will be: ”enhancing our ties with partners and allies”. Astonishing. Who does he mean, other than Saudi Arabia?
All major partners of the US in Europe, all other signatories to JCPOA, and China and Japan, deplore this decision both as such and in terms of what it might mean about future US conduct on a whole range of pressing global issues; the number and complexity of which is very large.
A clear consequence of Trump’s decision is yet another erasure of an Obama achievement. Trump has made very clear that this deeply prejudiced objective is one of his key goals, and to hell with the consequences.
Another consequence is by no means clear, yet, but potentially very important, is its impact on the overall non- proliferation regime.
What was negotiated with Iran was copybook NPT arrangements: a commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons; guaranteed by key States, including nuclear- weapon States; verified by IAEA; with mechanisms for redress if needed, by the Security Council. If such arrangements can be brought down by one party, for reasons neither submitted for consideration by other participants, nor agreed to by them, the whole enterprise is called into question. Open season for nuclear proliferation?
On that, Saudi Arabia has made clear that if Iran resumes enriching uranium above the limits specified in JCPOA, it will commence a nuclear weapons programme. A new term has emerged: a polynuclear Middle East. On this concept, Israel already has nuclear weapons.
Within the US, there have been voices expressing alarm at Trump’s decision. For example, Barack Obama has broken his usual silence to condemn it as a serious and dangerous mistake.
But, almost more striking is the prevailing response of wishing to move on to other issues commanding current attention. This possibly expresses the view that trying to make sense of Trump’s grandstanding on such an issue as the Iran agreement, is a fools’ errand. Or maybe it simply reflects growing exhaustion with the continual lying and, TV shows.
Two current issues stand out, deriving from the Iran fiasco.
First, what impact will it have on the forthcoming US/DPRK Summit? No one knows, but surely the safe bet is that it strengthens Kim Jon -Un’s hand because, in the end, he could be forgiven for having a healthy degree of concern about the US’ reliability in adhering to agreements negotiated with it.
Secondly, in circumstances where the US President’s conduct of foreign policy is clearly shaped by his attention to his domestic constituency, uninformed by any real knowledge of or intrinsic interest in foreign policy; how much reliance can be placed on his word, especially given: the ever-growing pressures he is facing through the legal and investigative enquiries in to him; his administration; and, his associates.
An illustration of this problem is given by the widely noticed coincidence of his announcement on Iran, a few days earlier than had been planned, and new revelations of significant sums of money having been sent from Russia into a shell company established by his then personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
The usually circumspect Washington Post columnist, EJ Donne, wrote after these new developments, that he believes the US is currently experiencing “one of the most corrupt periods in our history.
The question, which is continually posted, remains relevant: will Trump attempt to fight his way out of domestic disgrace by staging a foreign war(s), particularly those which would appeal to his Evangelical/Pro Israel supporters.
John Bolton’s career has been one of attachment to US military intervention. He has stated publicly that he does not believe in international law, or arms control agreements. He continues to believe that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the right decision and, that military action against Iran and DPRK will need to be taken to secure US interests. Consistent with his view on international law, he considers that the US has the right to act, militarily, whenever and wherever it chooses.
A similar attitude in the international economic arena was expressed in Trump’s statement on the Iran agreement: any States’ failure to conform with the sanctions on Iran, now to be re-imposed by the US, would be met by US sanctions on them. Will Turnbull/Bishop be happy with this?
The decision to scuttle the JCPOA, based as it was on lies about the Agreement, raises major questions about the US’ role in the world in the period immediately ahead. What will be the point of arguing any matters of fact with them?
Benjamin Netanyahu and Prince Salman may be feeling that things are moving in their preferred direction, but for how long and, at what cost?
Besides, if Donald Trump truly is attached to the notion that chaos has its uses, which would seem to be true; then the Middle East now seems set fair for more.
Richard Butler AC formerly Ambassador to the United Nations, New York.