Donald Trump’s long-heralded decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal is, by some distance, the most consequential action of this abysmal presidency. Despite the best efforts of Macron, Merkel and Boris Johnson, nothing was going to stop the president this time. After all, Trump campaigned on a promise to do so, and it’s an Obama achievement – and Trump is opposed to anything that Obama was for. America is unilaterally exiting the agreement, and the rest of the world has no say in the matter.
Just to refresh your memory, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) was put in place by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany) in order to stop Iran’s progress towards getting a nuclear bomb. America took the lead. It remains the single most successful international initiative of Obama’s presidency, a triumph for then Secretary of State John Kerry.
Under the agreement, the west agreed to end economic (and other) sanctions against Iran and unfreeze billions of dollars in overseas Iranian assets. In return for this, Iran allowed an unprecedented level of scrutiny of its nuclear facilities. Members of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) were basically allowed to turn up, tap on the door and demand entry to any nuclear facility, at any time, just to be sure that Iran wasn’t doing anything sneaky. It’s been phenomenally successful – there have been over 400 inspections, and no report of anything wrong. Iran has, with international certification, reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98% and it’s centrifuges by two-thirds. Iran doesn’t have a bomb. The agreement worked, and was working.
But Trump doesn’t like it. He says it’s a bad deal for America (it isn’t), that Obama gave Iran billions in cash (he didn’t, he unfroze their existing assets), and that it’s not good in the long term, on the ludicrous premise that the agreement expires in 2025 (few, if any, international agreements of this kind run anything like as long – seven years is the event horizon). Trump lies so often and so overtly that he probably doesn’t actually know the truth, which is that America seeks hegemony across the Middle East, control over the last great sovereign oil reserves on earth, and endless war to feed its military machine. The sane men in the White House have left, to be replaced by people like John Bolton, Fox News erstwhile shill for never-ending war. Trump is responding to their overtures. He may well view war as the ultimate way out of his domestic woes.
Put yourself in Iran’s shoes. The country is literally surrounded by US bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Right next door, Iraq was invaded and its leader executed precisely because it did not have weapons of mass destruction. It will not have escaped their notice that the third party in the famous ‘axis of evil’, North Korea, attained nuclear status and is now negotiating from a position of strength. Iran would have to be mad not to seek to acquire a nuclear weapon, based on such overt aggression, on nearly every border, by its implacable enemies.
The dangers here are impossible to miss. Faced with economic calamity (through renewed sanctions) and the real threat of invasion and war, Iran will restart its nuclear program, with a vow never again to be fooled into an agreement which the other party is so happy to tear up on a whim. This will put Iran at even greater loggerheads with Israel, whose leader last week made a presentation so belligerent and transparently false that it actually failed to gain traction outside of the Fox News parallel universe. Trump’s decision puts the west on a path to war with Iran. Iran, spiritual leader of the Shia crescent that dominates the Middle East. Iran, backed by Russia (and China), who will side with and arm the revolutionary army, pitting the world’s two premier nuclear powers against each other. Iran, cradle of modern civilisation, with (for once) a moderate president in place, and a young, relatively pro-western population just aching to join the international fold. This is nuclear-grade bonkers.
Perhaps just as frightening is the looming spectre of a resolution, one way or another, of the North Korean issue. Kim Jong-un is not to be trusted, but for whatever reason he has recently started acting more rationally – the limited détente with his fellow Koreans is a good thing. Jaw-jaw is better than war-war, but if America arbitrarily abrogates itself from a nuclear agreement that, however flawed, is clearly working, what will Kim’s takeaway be? Surely he will reason that there is little point conducting good faith negotiations with America when it is governed by a capricious, reckless lunatic, to whom agreements and good behaviour can be jettisoned at will. Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement will likely convince Kim that the negotiation of a settlement with America is pointless, and that the only way to possibly guarantee the safety of his state against American aggression is to retreat, and to finally perfect an intercontinental missile that can hit America at the push of a button.
Trump’s decision puts his nation on the path to two separate, equally disastrous wars, both with nuclear-level dangers.
Thrown into this extraordinary mix are events in America with startling similarities to those of Watergate in 1972. ‘Black Cube’, a private Israeli intelligence firm with links to the Mossad, are reported to have conducted a ‘dirty ops’ campaign in May last year against former Obama officials involved in the crafting of the Iran deal, apparently with the intention of showing that the officials gained financially from the way the deal was put together, and thus undermining the legitimacy of the agreement. The two individuals targeted (Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl) are relatively unfamiliar to the public, so it is a strange coincidence that both were the target of media attacks by Trump surrogates like Sebastian Gorka at precisely the same time that Black Cube were doing their dirty work last year.
The identity of whoever paid Black Cube to conduct this operation is not known, but the Trump administration has to be one of the prime suspects, given how their goals so closely align.
Echoing Watergate, this week’s Guardian reports that the Washington offices of a pro-Iran-deal advocacy group were burgled in November last year. The operation appears to have been highly sophisticated, with CCTV and security networks disabled. The thieves took only the senior executive’s computers and left more valuable items untouched.
With the stakes sky-high, if it were shown that the Trump administration has been funding Israeli spies to discredit American citizens and an international nuclear deal, it’s hard to overstate how damaging that would be to the president. If Trump and his goons were ultimately behind a break-in in the nation’s capital, designed specifically to help undermine a centrepiece of international diplomacy, the comparison with Watergate would be complete.
Worlds are colliding. Those of us wishing for peace should pray a little harder tonight. Perhaps only investigative journalism can now save us from a march once again to war.
© George W. Grundy, 2018
George W. Grundy is a Perth-based businessman and blogger, and the author of ‘Death of a Nation: 9/11 and the Rise of Fascism in America’, published by Skyhorse, NYC.