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Trump Administration Has No Strategy in Dealing With Iran

When America took steps to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement in May we pointed out that the Trump Administration didn't seem to have a plan to get the "better deal" that they claimed they were seeking. They still don't. If anything, they simply hope that the economic pain from renewed sanctions will force Iran back to the bargaining table or lead to unrest and eventually a revolution in Iran. Neither are likely and its quite possible that our withdrawal will strengthen the hand of Iran's hardliners who argued in the past that you can't trust Americans to live up to their treaty obligations and that their nation needs a nuclear deterrent to prevent US intervention.

In a piece yesterday for OZY, John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA, argues that the Trump Administration still has no strategy that will work in Iran and that they made a mistake in withdrawing from the nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama Administration in 2015.

McLaughlin in OZY: "The 2015 nuclear accord by Obama’s administration had its flaws, but at least it would have sharply limited Tehran’s weapons-related nuclear work for a decade or more. It was also a rare point of convergence for the United States, Europe, Russia, China and Iran — all signatories to the agreement. Pulling out only added to growing U.S. isolation in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and its budding trade wars with Europe and Asia."

..."Beyond economic pressure, the administration has few viable options. It could seek to renegotiate the agreement to get better terms, but there is virtually no chance Tehran will agree to reopen the accord. European allies tried tightening the agreement somewhat in the hope of meeting Trump’s conditions for remaining in it but did not make much progress. Besides, Iran will cite the repeated certifications of its compliance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to make the point that there is nothing to renegotiate."

"Taken at face value, bellicose tweet-driven rhetoric flying back and forth between Trump and Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in recent days makes it sound like the U.S. is ready to use military power if Iranian taunts continue. But Trump has made clear numerous times that he does not want to make or maintain major military ground operations in the Middle East. He has said repeatedly, for example, that he wants U.S. troops out of Syria. So chances are Iran is writing off Trump’s threats as hollow — probably a safe bet."

And Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University thinks that Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has been forced by America's withdrawal from the nuclear deal to move closer to Iran's hardliners in order to survive politically; "I think it would be a bit early to reach the conclusion that the game is over and the hardliners have taken complete command of Iran's foreign policy. But we can say that we are definitely moving in that direction."

Moreover, as McLaughlin points out, "anti-Iran actions by the U.S. typically cause Iranians to coalesce in defense of their country, rather than cast blame on their political leaders." So, it's much more likely that the majority of Iranians will support a tougher posture toward America than rebel against their leadership.

The Bottom Line: We are forcing Rouhani into the arms of Iran's hardliners who were always skeptical of negotiating with the West. Their goal is to develop a nuclear deterrent so that Iran can negotiate from a position of strength. However, Iran hawks in Congress, Saudi Arabia and Israel will never allow that to occur. In other words, we are back to square one and no one in the White House seems to know where we go from here.

Photo Credit: Tasnim News Agency

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