President Donald Trump laid out his goal for relations with Iran Saturday in the wake of last week’s near-confrontation: a deal that actually stops Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
“Iran right now is an economic mess. They’re going through hell. The sanctions have hit them hard. More sanctions are going to be put on, a lot more. All I want is no nuclear weapons,” he told reporters. “We could have a deal with them very quickly if they wanted to. It’s up to them.”
Trump’s goal recognizes the essential failure of the Iran deal: namely, that it did not actually prevent Iran from moving toward a nuclear weapon. It allowed Iran to continue to enrich some uranium slowly, then to return to rapid enrichment after a decade or so. Its monitoring mechanisms were also too weak to matter. The deal also failed to prevent Iran’s continued development of ballistic missiles. It did nothing about Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, and in fact funded it.
The president wants a new agreement that closes all the loopholes in Obama’s failed deal. Presumably, Trump’s Iran deal would actually be signed by both Iran and the U.S. (Obama’s deal was not), and would be ratified by the Senate before being presented to the UN Security Council (Obama went to the UN first and Democrats blocked a vote on the deal in Congress).
The question is whether the Iranian regime could actually agree to a deal with all those provisions.
For decades, Iran’s theocrats have relied partly on external threats to justify their internal repression. An Iranian regime that has to focus on improving the lives of the Iranian people might not survive in its present form.
Obama preserved the regime from the Green Revolution in 2009 to preserve the possibility of a future deal. Trump is doing the opposite. While disavowing regime change, Trump is subtly creating the conditions for it, to America’s long-run strategic advantage.
Again and again, he has signaled to the Iranian people he supports their democratic aspirations and values their lives. It is the same message Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sent. Though the regime censors the Internet, the message has likely broken through.
Obama gave the American people a choice between two bad options: war, or a bad deal. Trump is making the Iranian regime choose between collapse without a deal or collapse, eventually, with one.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.