Since President Trump renounced America’s commitments under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal this month, the question has been what comes next. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced what he expected to happen — Iranian capitulation.
In a belligerent speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, Mr. Pompeo said the administration intended to use all of America’s economic and military might if Iran did not stop uranium enrichment, developing nuclear-capable missiles and supporting Hezbollah, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iranian forces in Syria.
The demands — 12 points in all — are so extensive that it is unlikely Iran could comply any time soon, even if it wanted to. And any benefits it would achieve in exchange — sanctions relief, the re-establishment of diplomatic and commercial relations — would be at some unspecified point in the future.
Mr. Pompeo promised to bring “unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime,” to track down and “crush” Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies around the world, and to inflict “bigger problems than they’d ever had before” if Iranian leaders resume their nuclear program.
There are many things wrong with this approach, but let’s start with this: It’s not a strategy. It’s wishful thinking that will make regional tensions worse, if not lead to outright conflict.
We’re at this absurd point because Mr. Trump cast aside a multinational deal under which Iran curtailed its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Mr. Trump objected that the deal did not address concerns it was never meant to address, like Iran’s regional activities.
Mr. Trump and his lieutenants act confident that reimposing American sanctions will bring Iran, hampered by a weak economy and political unrest, to heel. But the sanctions that preceded the 2015 nuclear deal were effective because they were broadly supported by the international community, especially Europe, Russia and China.
The Europeans have reaffirmed their commitment to the deal as well as to continued economic engagement with Iran. So what is Mr. Trump doing? Making enemies of America’s best friends by threatening them with sanctions.
Justifiably angered, the Europeans are discussing ways around the American sanctions, further eroding the trans-Atlantic alliance and perhaps hastening the day when they have a financial system far less entwined with the United States’.
Mr. Pompeo’s speech did not demonstrate how walking away from the nuclear deal “has made or will make the region safer from the threat of nuclear proliferation,” Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said. There is “no alternative” to the deal, she said.
There is no defending Iran’s support for Bashar al-Assad, the bloody dictator in Syria, or its use of Hezbollah militants to control Lebanon and threaten Israel. But other countries — including Russia in Syria and Saudi Arabia in Yemen — also fuel regional instability.
Although Mr. Pompeo said the administration’s aim was a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the real goal seems to be to break the regime or force it to resume the nuclear program, thus giving the United States and Israel an excuse for military action.
The world’s experience with regime change in Iraq should make clear why this is a terrible idea. Along with waging war on a false premise, causing tens of thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars in wasted funds, and enabling the spread of Islamist militants, it’s a major reason Iran has gained a foothold in Iraq today.
It’s no coincidence that John Bolton, one of the George W. Bush administration’s architects of that disaster, is now at the center of American policymaking as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser.
There’s also the irony of, as Mr. Pompeo is making these demands, his boss is offering North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un — believed to have as many as 60 nuclear weapons — security guarantees to abandon his arsenal. Iran has no nuclear weapons and has significantly curbed its program.
Over the past several weeks, the Iranians have had a reasonably measured response to the American provocations, even as President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, has faced pressure from hard-liners eager to push back against the United States and restart the nuclear program. The world is left to hope — with no help from Washington — that restraint can hold.
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