Whiffs of Grapeshot

in Program

Quote of the week:

“Angels and ministers of grace defend us!”

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene IV


The master of self-inflicted wounds has done it again. This time, President Donald Trump is walking away from meaningful, verifiable limits on Iran’s bomb program. The constraints on Iran’s nuclear program embedded in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action weren’t good enough for those in Washington, Israel, and Saudi Arabia inclined toward regime change and “kinetic” options — otherwise known as military strikes. Now Tehran could become free to act without constraints and on its own timetable, without inspectors on the ground.

A president who mocked the deal that the Obama administration negotiated alongside the permanent members of the Security Council and the European Union will now be challenged to do better. Diplomacy isn’t Trump’s strong suit; trashing Barack Obama’s accomplishments is. Nullification of the Iran nuclear deal suits those with no faith in diplomacy, raising the prospect of harsher strategies, beginning with sanctions. If sanctions and diplomacy both fail, military options become more likely.

Trump’s stated rationales for walking away from the deal are weak. One reason, he said is that “it didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.” But this wasn’t a peace treaty. It was a deal to verifiably block Tehran’s pathways to the bomb.

With that comment, Trump was invoking the concept of “linkage” — conditioning a nuclear deal on improved behavior by an adversary outside the deal’s scope. That’s been tried before, most notably by the Nixon administration. Nixon wanted to rein in Soviet ambitions in the Third World. The Kremlin never signed up to linkage, and Nixon didn’t walk away from the arms control agreements that he and Henry Kissinger struck with the Soviet Union.


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Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center.

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