Critics claim the decision could isolate the United States from its allies, set Iran sprinting toward nuclear weapons, and increase the likelihood of military conflict. Supporters argue that the move is the best way to block Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Skeptics dismiss the act as mere political posturing—a way for Trump to appear to honor his campaign promises while kicking the can to Congress and ultimately sticking with the agreement. (HERE)
4. Israel and Saudi Arabia praised Trump’s strategy towards Iran deal. What’s your assessment of their reaction?The praise also makes substantial sense. To a large extent, there is little else that might be expected given the web that Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia have built for themselves in their relations (formal and informal) for the last generation. Iran has made it quite clear for almost half a century that it views as impossible a sovereign state that is Jewish in national character, especially one that sits atop space with religious significance to Islam. At the same time, the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been aggressively competitive, as modern incarnations of ancient enmities with origins as old as Islam. It ought to come as no surprise, then, that both states might be drawn together, even if discretely and informally, in support of any effort that might counter Iranian policies and objectives. And, in any case it is always useful for regional powers to act in the shadow of larger powers in managing their affairs. To that end, any instability that might either distract Iranian policy objectives or weaken Iranian geopolitical strategies would be welcome. It is likely, as well, that at least portions of the leadership of both states share the view that Iranian nuclear ambitions will not be adequately constrained by the agreement. But neither state plays a prominent role in the agreement or in determining global consensus on approaches to Iranian nuclear objectives. As a consequence, any act by one of the signatory parties that appears to undermine the intent, if not the letter, of the agreement, would be welcome. Whether the actions of the United States have any effect in fact is less important than the appearance that the United States might take a stricter approach to the implementation of the agreement. Even more important, the strategy of the United States might make it easier to strengthen Israeli and Saudi regional objectives while it weakens those of Iran. This may be particularly important to both states in the front lines of their conflicts with Iran—Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.5. Some Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern that withdrawal from the deal could lead to war in the Middle East. What’s your analysis?I think it is both premature and too late to speak to issues of war in the region. It is premature because there does not appear to be any effort to withdraw from the deal just yet. As such, the responses from the Democratic leaders appears to stake a position in ways are meant to appeal to some element of the American electorate (and the donor class in the United States) as well as to forge informal alliances with similarly minded factions within the U.S.’s European allies. It is also too late because, frankly, the Middle East has not been free from war except for short periods since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. What the Democratic law makers may have meant was that such a withdrawal, were it to actually take place, and were that withdrawal to be combined with other actions that effectively voided the agreement, could make it more likely that war would flare again in new places and among new actors. The great danger, then, would be not the wars that have managed to remain contained, but wars that involve powerful regional states that might draw in the great powers. For the moment, those fears are overblown. It is in no one’s interest to move toward regional war with the possibility of escalation. Yet, to the extent that the actions of the United States embolden those factions within all relevant states which for reasons of religious prejudice, political ambition, or ideological imperatives seek it, the appearance of withdrawing can increase the likelihood that states might well blunder their way to war.6. In his remarks, Trump spoke about Iran’s “proud history, its culture, its civilization, its cooperation with its neighbors.” However, he used the phrase “Arabian Gulf” rather than “Persian Gulf” in his speech. What’s your take on this?Sometimes terms that have political sensitivity may be lost on foreigners who are to some extent indifferent to the politics of names. Other times, the invocation of one or another contested name may have strong signaling objectives. Perhaps a little of both is at play here. Yet the most profound mistake of analysis is to distort the power of signals—these are cheap shots—whose effects may distract from the larger objectives of the parties. It might have been more useful to place more emphasis on the reference to Iran’s historic culture as a pointed reference to the comparative current state of the nation, than to the name of a body of water that will continue to exist and with respect to which power will eventually determine control, whatever name is given to it. Indeed, from the Iranian side there might be great irony in the deference to the name in return for actual control of the Gulf.7. EU foreign policy chief said the nuclear deal is an international agreement and Trump cannot unilaterally terminate it. Do you believe that the JCPOA will survive without the U.S.?The E.U. policy chief, is, of course, correct. But as the responses above have made clear, there has not yet been a breach or termination of the agreement. Indeed, like most multilateral agreements, this one was likely to have to be treated flexibly as the situation changed. What has caused concern is the directness of the U.S. position—that it seeks to renegotiate the basic terms of the agreement itself. But there is nothing profoundly irregular about that demand, especially where the United States continues to abide by its terms. To the extent that it may signal strict rather than broad compliance, that is news that ought to be gratefully received by the other members to the agreement—there will be no surprised on that score. For the Iranians, of course, that also poses a challenge. If the United States can convince key parties to the agreement that some renegotiation is in order, the Iranians will have to prepare for that eventuality and propose their own positions. That is merely politics, and a politics that has a very long history in the relations among states within multilateral agreement. This is not a contract among merchants, but an agreement among sovereign states with paramount obligations to safeguard their interests while advancing the interests of a peaceful and harmonious world order. I have no doubt that the Iranians will work hard to protect and advance their own interests, but so will the United States. It is to the hard work of aligning those interests sufficiently to avoid conflict that the best and brightest from both sides ought to turn their attention.