When National Security Advisor John Bolton showed up on CNN’s State of the Union this week the obvious topic of conversation (besides North Korea) was the state of the Iran deal. Bolton is always good for generating some headlines if not outrage on the left and this proved to be no exception. Jake Tapper asked him about Trump exiting the deal the possibility that some European countries may move forward and try to keep the agreement going. This was juxtaposed with a clip of President Trump saying that anyone found to be helping Iran out could face sanctions. That’s when Tapper jumps in and asks if the President would really consider sanctioning any European nations. (Politico)

National security adviser John Bolton on Sunday carefully doubled down on President Donald Trump’s threat that European countries could be sanctioned by the United States if they continue to be involved with Iran.

“It’s possible,“ Bolton said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Bolton’s statement came as he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to amplify the reasons behind the Trump administration’s deal to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement and explain how it will work, given that the international community, other than Israel and some Arab nations, has not jumped on board with the president. Both Bolton and Pompeo suggested they believed the great powers of Europe might eventually see the light.

While Politico’s quotes are accurate, the order they lay them out in is misleading. When Tapper originally asked Bolton if sanctions on European nations were on the table, he responded with a different scenario, saying “I think the Europeans will see that it’s in their interest ultimately to come along with this.”

Here’s the video of that portion of the interview and the section in question comes near the beginning.

Most of this is just a way of blowing smoke and sending a message to leaders on both sides of the question, or at least that’s how I’m reading it. Trump is on the verge of pulling out a win with North Korea (possibly) precisely because he changed up the game and began playing hardball. I wouldn’t be shocked if he believes that Iran can be similarly motivated to come to the table with a better deal if they fear they’re dealing with a much tougher opponent. Is he right? Who knows?

But the main point here is that the talk of sanctions is just part of the sideshow. Nobody is going to attempt to lay sanctions on our closest allies when we need their continued support to enforce and maintain sanctions on the real bad actors around the world. Also, if Russia and China want to keep the Iran deal together (which they’ve signaled they do), they aren’t going to go along with any new, tougher sanctions on the Iranians while they’re still at the table and talking.

It makes for great cable news fodder if you can get Trump or one of his advisors like Bolton to mention sanctions on European countries or even the possibility of it. It tosses fuel on the fire to gin up the outrage machine for the next news cycle. But to think that sanctions on France, Germany or any of their neighbors for abetting Iran’s nuclear desires are on the way is just silliness. Trump and Bolton are just rattling sabers as they negotiate. But it’s more effective when Trump does it than any of his predecessors because the other countries aren’t entirely sure when he’s going to bare some steel.