President Trump withdrawing the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran Deal effectively ends the international peace agreement. Unfortunately, the end of the Iran Deal is the beginning of war.
The Iran Deal’s objective was to end that countries nuclear weapons program. To date, the deal has stopped Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, reduced the countries enriched uranium and the number of centrifuges. It failed to stop Iran expanding its missile program. It also failed to end Iran’s aggressive foreign policy expansion in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. All can be sanctioned separately.
Two Scenarios limit any conflict with Iran
First, complete Iranian capitulation to “Iran Hawk” demands drawn up by newly appointed National Security Advisor, John Bolton – an Iraq War architect – and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Their demands? Ending Iran’s nuclear program – including peaceful – ending Iran’s missile program, and curtailing Iran’s activities in surrounding countries. Iran will certainly never comply.
Second, regime change in Iran. Pulling out of the agreement adds more strains on the economy. This might force people to try toppling the clerical regime. If this is the objective, hopefully the Trump Administration already has plans on who to prop up in place of the current regime. A vacuum in Tehran will lead to even more bloodshed in the region and beyond.
What are the immediate consequences of ending Iran Deal?
First, the hardliners in Iran win. The people that chant “Death to America” are rejoicing in not having the constraints of the Iran deal. Thanks to President Trump, those people now have the upper hand to direct Iran’s foreign policy. More importantly, they will decide if Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions accelerate. This can very well include Iran withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It’s important to note, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea who are not members of the NPT all have nuclear weapons.
Second, a regional arms race is inevitable. With hardliners, such as the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) in full control, will increase procurement and production of conventional weapons. They will also likely, restart their clandestine nuclear weapons program. In addition, clandestine terrorist activity abroad, as well as aggressive maneuvering in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen will likely occur. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt will have to follow suit in their pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Third, the immediate prospect of conflict with Iran is substantial. That includes IRGC attacks against US positions in the region. A conflict between Israel and Iran will also get America sucked in. While Iran cannot go toe-to-toe with American forces, they have perfected asymmetric warfare. They also have proxy units throughout the Middle East. A lesson from Iraq: Iran’s asymmetric capabilities caused most of US IED casualties.
What about our allies?
Withdrawing from this agreement puts us at odds with our allies, Germany, France, UK and South Korea, who have all made their disapproval known. These countries have increased business and trade with Iran since 2015. Unless their is an exemption, they will be in violation of US law if they continue their activities. Some of these countries have spent billions of dollars, expecting a ROI. Will they block their companies from having to comply with US sanctions like they did in the 1990’s? Will they defy the sanctions? It’s certain after President Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, then slapped tariffs – pending review – on the European Union, they find themselves with an unpredictable America.
What about Russia and China?
Withdrawing from this agreement also puts strain on our relations with Russia and China who have deep military and economic ties with Iran. China for its part receives a lot of its energy from Iran. It’s deeply invested in developing Iran’s oil and gas industry. And Iran is a key geo-strategic friend. Will we sanction Chinese companies developing Iran’s petroleum industry, who have already spent billions there?
Moreover, Russia and Iran have deep military ties. Russia has provided submarines, anti-aircraft artillery and air support for Iranian troops in Syria. Will a conflict with Iran result in the Russians getting involved? What’s certain is where America leaves a leadership vacuum, Russia takes advantage. These are questions that we didn’t need to answer, until today.
How did we get here with Iran, and where do we go?
Many parties are to blame over a course of 60-70 years.
The United States has never had a coherent strategy for Iran. What do we want? Are we trying to contain Iran like President Clinton did? How about trying to get along with the Islamic Republic, which is perhaps what Obama was trying to do? Do we want regime change, like George W. Bush’s administration wanted? Have we now concluded none of the above and we need to scare them to the negotiating table? It seems that is President Trump’s preferred foreign policy strategy with unfriendly countries, ie. North Korea and Iran.
The Iranians have no reason to trust negotiating with America, or for that matter, trust the frameworks of international law. Deep mistrust already existed, and now the mullahs can not only point the CIA backed coup d’etat in the 1950’s, America’s support of Iraq during their 1980-1988 war, but now to a final deal reaffirming “America cannot be trusted.” Which is what the hardliners in Tehran were skeptic of.
Iran Hawks and those that believe President Trump’s negotiating style works will find themselves trying to explain how a potentially lucrative trade agreement turned into war. Yes, I fear President Trump’s brinkmanship will fail and the United States will either have to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran, or find ourselves at war. But a return to the negotiating table between Iran and America will likely not happen.
Although an armed conflict in conventional terms is winnable, the question is at what cost? Lets not forget, the same people (i.e. John Bolton) that assumed Iraq would be a quick war, are now entrenched within this administration – and we’ve been in Iraq for fifteen years.
Without a comprehensive strategy, we are embarking on a path to conflict with Iran sooner than later.