Donald Trump’s Iran Plan: Provoke a War By Any Means Necessary

Yang Chenglin/Xinhua via ZUMA

I never got around to commenting on Donald Trump’s latest announcement about Iran. It was delivered by Mike Pompeo, his Secretary of State, and it demanded that Iran do all of the following:

  1. Deliver a full account of the “military dimensions” of its prior nuclear program.
  2. Verifiably abandon all work on nuclear weapons “in perpetuity.”
  3. Stop all uranium enrichment, which includes closing its heavy water reactor.
  4. Never start up plutonium reprocessing.
  5. Provide the IAEA with “unqualified access” to “all sites throughout the entire country.”
  6. Halt development of nuclear-capable missiles.
  7. End proliferation of ballistic missiles.
  8. Release all citizens of the US and its allies.
  9. Stop support of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
  10. Permit the disarming and demobilization of all Shia militias in Iraq.
  11. End all military support of the Houthi militia in Yemen.
  12. Withdraw all forces from Syria.
  13. End support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  14. Stop harboring senior al-Qaida leaders.
  15. End the Quds Force’s support for terrorists and militant partners around the world.
  16. End all threatening behavior against its neighbors, including threats to destroy Israel, firing of missiles into Saudi Arabia and the UAE, threats to international shipping, and cyberattacks.

Everybody in the world has already made this point, but I’ll add one more to the chorus: this is just a longwinded way of saying that the US will never, ever remove sanctions on Iran. They will be in place forever. This is the Trump Doctrine on Iran. Dan Drezner describes it like this:

The Trump administration is hoping for the foreign policy equivalent of lucking into an inside straight. They hope that renewed sanctions can tip Iran’s civil society into open revolt and destabilize the regime. I’ll leave it to the Iran experts to assess the likelihood of that outcome. As a sanctions expert, I will say this: Trump has given Iran’s theocratic regime the perfect scapegoat to offer up to explain Iran’s stagnant economy. Now everything can be blamed on the renewed sanctions, rather that Iran’s indigenous dysfunctions.

This sounds right, except that drawing to an inside straight isn’t all that unlikely. Pompeo’s plan is more like hoping to hit a hole in one: it’s not going to happen and everyone knows it. Trump’s real plan appears pretty simple: tighten the screws on Iran until he provokes them to do something stupid, and then join up with Israel and Saudi Arabia to wipe them off the map.

Real lefties would call me naive, but I never really thought I’d see the day when you could reasonably say that Iran is a more reliable negotiating partner than the United States. But now I’ve seen it.