Are there any cabinet members who want to tear up the agreement? Tillerson obviously doesn’t. Mattis doesn’t. As of July, the last time the deal was recertified, both Joe Dunford and H.R. McMaster supported keeping it going although McMaster has criticized the terms harshly since then. And remember, this is an administration full of Iran hawks. They know how Iran has tightened its grip on Syria. They know the threat it poses to Israel. If they don’t want to bail out of the deal right now, there must be pressing reasons.
If WaPo’s report is accurate, the one guy whose opinion counts agrees with her:
President Trump plans to announce next week that he will “decertify” the international nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is not in the national interest of the United States and kicking the issue to a reluctant Congress, people briefed on an emerging White House strategy for Iran said Thursday…
Trump’s senior national security advisers agreed within the past several weeks to recommend that Trump “decertify” the agreement at the Oct. 15 deadline, two of those people said.
That would start a 60-day congressional review period to consider the next steps for the United States. On its own, the step would not break the agreement among Iran, the United States and other world powers, but would start a clock on resuming sanctions that the United States had lifted as its part of the deal.
The administration has begun discussing possible legislation to “strengthen” the agreement, congressional aides and others said. That is the “fix it or nix it” approach suggested by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a leading Republican hawk on Iran.
Has McMaster flipped since July and now supports decertification? He’s the only top natsec person I can think of whose opinion seems ambiguous right now. Mattis affirmed his reluctant support for the deal yesterday.
The reason he and Tillerson et al. are loath to back out of the deal right now, I assume, is because of North Korea. It’s not merely a matter of that crisis being more urgent than a new crisis with Iran triggered by American action. It’s a matter of not wanting to signal to the North Koreans that any deal they might make with the U.S. to denuclearize could be discarded by the White House at any time, just as the Iran deal is being discarded. The U.S. already has a trust problem with North Korea because of how it turned on Qaddafi during the Libyan uprising in 2011. Kim’s regime reportedly took note that Qaddafi had voluntarily given up nukes in 2003 for the promise of better relations with America only to find the U.S. on the side of the opposition when Libyans revolted eight years later. Qaddafi could have kept the U.S. and other western powers at bay if he had kept his nuclear deterrent. Instead he gave it up for magic beans. For that reason it’s unlikely North Korea will ever make a nuclear deal with the U.S., whatever we end up doing with Iran. But if we throw out the deal that Obama agreed to, reneging on another promise? Yeah, all hope of diplomacy with North Korea will realistically be dead, assuming it isn’t already.
On the other hand, if the idea is to place the Iran deal on the backburner until North Korea is “dealt with,” it might be sitting on that burner forever. Obama spent eight years farting around while the NorKs moved steadily towards building a functional nuclear missile. Unless Trump is planning a preemptive attack on Pyongyang soon, the saber-rattling with North Korea could consume his entire first term, ensuring there’s never a “good time” to deal with Iran. Plus, if he scraps the deal now, he could use its reinstatement (under modified terms) as an inducement to get Iran to cooperate later on key matters like a Syria peace deal. And there’s a chance that a tough gesture towards Iran will frighten Kim into backing away from further missile tests and other nuclear provocations. Trump seems to be pursuing a “madman” strategy towards North Korea lately, with Tillerson as the good cop and Trump as the bad cop. The madman strategy works better when the target, er, isn’t already fully aware that it’s a strategy, that you’re not really “mad,” but tearing up the Iran deal would be consistent with it. Trump’s so “crazy” he’s willing to spark confrontation with not one but two would-be nuclear rogue states. Kim’s sure to back down now. Or to freak out and launch missiles at Tokyo. One or the other.
I wonder if decertification of the deal will be the final straw for Tillerson. Despite yesterday’s warm words at his press conference, his relationship with Trump sounds borderline toxic:
But the deliberate, slow-talking oil executive has little personal chemistry with the quick-talking, impulsive Mr. Trump. Mr. Tillerson has avoided expressing his pique to the president. But aides and Trump associates who have been in the room with them said Mr. Tillerson’s body language, eye rolling and terse expressions left little doubt that he disapproves of Mr. Trump’s approach.
Mr. Trump, they said, has noticed how Mr. Tillerson slouches in his presence, particularly when he disagrees with a decision. When overruled, Mr. Tillerson often says, “It’s your deal,” to the president’s irritation, according to two former administration officials.
“Trump has chafed at what he sees as arrogance on the part of an employee,” adds WaPo, and reportedly “believes his top diplomat often seems more concerned with what the world thinks of the United States than with tending to the president’s personal image.” Imagine the Secretary of State prioritizing respect for the country over the Trump “brand.” It’s a miracle he hasn’t been fired already.
If he was in Jeff Sessions’s position, with no obvious replacement waiting in the wings, I think he might hang on a good while longer. Since Haley is standing by and seems to be more like-minded with Trump himself, T-Rex will probably go extinct by the end of the year. Here’s Mattis yesterday making the case for sticking with the Iran deal for now.