Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Trump promised and delivered on Iran. Never mind that he fabricated and misled all along the way

Trump is fixated on fulfilling promises made to his base. He has pulled out of this deal because he could

David Usborne
Tuesday 08 May 2018 20:34 BST
Donald Trump withdraws from nuclear deal with Iran

One of the principal complaints against Donald Trump’s foreign policy is its incoherence. He quits a Pacific trade deal then ponders rejoining it. He abandons the Paris climate train before teasing about barging back on board. Steel tariffs for all! Well, unless you are exempted.

Trump has said it’s not chaos he’s presiding over but a conscious strategy. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” he said during the 2016 campaign. That way, he reasons everyone is kept on their toes. Vladimir Putin could read Barack Obama like a book. Not so him.

That’s one way to make sense of his actions, including his latest shocker – the decision to exit the nuclear deal negotiated with Iran by the permanent five of the UN Security Council plus Germany. He saw where the boundaries of accepted diplomacy lay and skipped right across them.

The other way is precisely to look back to the campaign. Trump is fixated on fulfilling promises made to his base. Some have proved beyond his reach. Like the wall. But where he can deliver he has, and the last of the very big ones was this: to kibosh the “insane” Iran deal that “never, ever should have been made”. Look at it that way and what he’s doing was entirely predictable.

As they say of cheating husbands, Trump has done it because he could. Almost certainly he did it also because the deal was something President Obama delivered. Undoing the Obama legacy is another of his main compass points.

Perhaps, also, he was emboldened by progress on North Korea. Trump the Reckless has been attracting Peace Prize talk. The two freshly installed, and entirely hawkish, members of his national security team, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, surely nudged him forward. It was Bolton hovering by the door as Trump did his thing.

“The United States no longer makes empty threats,” Mr Trump declared in the Diplomatic Room of the White House. There’s that promises thing again. “When I make promises I keep them.” As alleged proof, he revealed that Pompeo was within minutes of departing to Pyongyang for a second round of talks to set the terms of a summit between himself and Kim Jong-un.

Of course the biggest promise of all in 2016 was the one about putting “America first”. After signing his exit decree, he was forced by questions shouted by reporters to offer a variation on the theme. “This will make American safer!”

How so, exactly? No sooner had he finished speaking than the Pentagon was plunged into high alert about the possibility of imminent Iranian strikes against Israel, which was instrumental in pushing the president to his position. As never before, he has alienated European allies, notably France, Britain and Germany, which did all they could to pull him back from the brink.

So far – emphasis on that – so good on North Korea. But Tehran and Pyongyang are not the same. Trump has created a whole new nuclear crisis unnecessarily. He now faces two at once. And this is an additional crisis in a region already riven by military and diplomatic tensions. Hopes of stabilising Syria and Yemen seem suddenly further out of reach. Nor is it clear that this action won’t render the task of finalising a lasting deal with North Korea more difficult.

Trump, meanwhile, has sold this action on serial false premises. It is not just that he failed to spell out the enormous risks involved. It’s also that every utterance he has ever made on Iran has been laced with lies and mistruths. He said in his announcement that Iran is engaged right now in building a nuclear arsenal. Not true. Who is saying that? No one. There is no evidence.

He has repeatedly, and again in the Diplomatic Room, accused Obama of delivering $1.7bn to Iran the day the deal entered into force, as if it were some secret pay-off or bribe. In cash, in barrels, he said last week. There were never any barrels, a preposterous notion. He does it to stir up popular support for clobbering Tehran. Never does he acknowledge the truth that this was money owed to Iran for money paid to the US for military hardware that was never delivered.

And Trump again cited the case laid out by Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, that Iran had spirited out a ton of secret documents that would have given the lie to its claim that it never pursued a nuclear military capacity. That too is a red herring, or rather a crock. Netanyahu, followed up by Trump, claimed this was evidence Iran was contravening the agreement. Not so said one nuclear proliferation expert after another. Nothing new there. Trump said that a better deal was there to be had in 2015. No there wasn’t, not by any stretch.

A new survey by Pew Research suggests that Americans, to whom Trump believes he is delivering on his promises, are not as dumb as he thinks they are. True, more Americans say they disapprove (40 per cent) than approve (32 per cent) of the agreement. But that doesn’t mean they think exiting is a sensible step. Fewer than half of those surveyed (42 per cent) said they are very or somewhat confident in Trump’s handling of the situation with Iran; 52 per cent say they are not.

Trump may have retired to the Oval Office congratulating himself on his boldness. One more promise delivered. One more step towards America First, now America Safer. But if so he has bought the same crock that he has been selling to the American people ever since he started running. And unlike the Paris Agreement or steel tariffs, there will be no walking back on this one.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in