Wednesday, May 09, 2018

West of Eden: Deal Away

Chahar Bagh School, or School of Sultan Hossein's Mother, Isfahan, 19th-century drawing by Pascal Coste, via Wikipedia.

Money quote, for my money, from the press questions after Trump's announcement:
REPORTER: Mr. President, how does this make America safer? How does this make America safer?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. This will make America much safer. Thank you very much.
Oh, that's how. In a much kind of way. Not somewhat or a bit. It's the muchness, stupid.

I didn't listen to the speech, but the way folks were describing his delivery (somebody on Twitter said he was "reading it phonetically") made it sound clear that he'd spent even less time reading it ahead of time than he normally does, which means around zero, and had no idea what it said. Though you can see a dim understanding floating by in a couple of Trumpy interpolations, like
In other words, at the point when the United States had maximum leverage, this disastrous deal gave this regime — and it’s a regime of great terror — many billions of dollars, some of it in actual cash — a great embarrassment to me as a citizen and to all citizens of the United States.
the reference to $1.7 billion as "many billions" and "actual cash" as if there were something particular sinister about that (cash was important to them as it would take some time for international banks to lift the sanctions), or his cute attempt to put himself in Ayatollah Khamenei's place—
Iran’s leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal. They refuse, and that’s fine. I’d probably say the same thing if I was in their position. But the fact is, they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people.
John Bolton didn't write that bolded bit, but I'm sure he or his assistants wrote all the words Trump saw on the TelePrompTer, like the dire accusation against Iran's buildup of its military spending
In the years since the deal was reached, Iran’s military budget has grown by almost 40 percent — while its economy is doing very badly. After the sanctions were lifted, the dictatorship used its new funds to build its nuclear-capable missiles, support terrorism, and cause havoc throughout the Middle East and beyond.
without noting that that was $14 billion total in 2017, up from $10 billion in 2013, but well below the $15 billion it hit in Anno Bushii 2007.

Via Trading Economics.
I'm not finding Bolton or any of these people as a direct source for this distortion, though, which looks like it comes from Saudi or Muhahedin-e-Khalq outlets. Mujahedin-e-Khalq is, of course, the little cult of terrorist Iranian exiles that used to hole up in a camp set up by Saddam Hussein on his side of the border who have been providing American neoconservatives with (false) information about Iran's military programs ever since the Iraq War started and Saddam couldn't be their patron any more, and Bolton knows them very well:
Bolton, Giuliani and a host of Washington politicos from both parties have supported — and likely taken money from — front groups directly related to the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian resistance group that operates in exile. Its agents have been implicated in the deaths of Americans and thousands of Iranians, many stemming from its coordination with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the 1980s amid the war between Baghdad and Tehran. (Ishaan Tharoor, Wapo)
MEK are John Bolton's candidates for the democracy-loving freedom fighters who are going to overthrow the Iranian regime when the sanctions start biting so hard the people of Iran rise up in revolt against the mullahs. If you think that sounds a lot like an Iraq plan of 16 years ago, then you're being unfair to Cheney and Rumsfeld, because compared to Bolton, their disastrous and ignorant ideas about putting somebody like Ahmad Chalabi into power were realistic:
Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post's former Tehran correspondent who was detained unjustly by the Iranian regime for a year and a half, points to the widespread contempt for the MEK among ordinary Iranians, who view the organization as a craven, treacherous outfit.
"In the seven years I lived in Iran, many people expressed criticism of the ruling establishment — at great potential risk to themselves," noted Rezaian. "In all that time, though, I never met a person who thought the MEK should, or could, present a viable alternative."
My take is getting to be that the Trump crew is so inept and feckless that the Iran deal is not in point of fact even going to end. It's not clear that the Trump administration can reimpose the sanctions, because they don't have a staff that knows how:
The little-known federal agency in charge of enforcing financial punishments against the United States’ geopolitical foes is busy these days. But it’s also starving for cash and staff, and its director left the government last week.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is formally tasked with enforcing American sanctions that target countries like RussiaNorth Korea, and Iran—all of which have been hit with tough economic penalties in recent months and years.
But according to more than a dozen congressional aides, attorneys and former employees, OFAC is operating shorthanded at a critical juncture. One former OFAC employee described the agency as “depleted.” Another punch to the gut came on Friday when John Smith, who served as director for the past three years, left the agency. (Andrew Desiderio, Daily Beast)
For an idea of how reimposing sanctions on Iran from within the JCPOA would have worked, and how extremely difficult it would have been, see this from Center for a New American Security. Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund has been explaining how difficult it will be on the Maddow show, but I don't find anything to link on that.

I'm also convinced that outside the JCPOA, the rest of the P5+1 (UK, France, Germany, EU. China, and Russia) will decide the sanctions that will be imposed on them—US forbidding these countries to do business with Iran or offer the country banking services—are illegal, refuse to comply, and take us to court (though I'm not finding anybody to back me up on this).

Iran will not reenter negotiations on Trumpian terms ("We'd like to revise this deal so you give us more and we give you less"). Every country in the world will be more reluctant to deal with the United States on anything, because Trump cannot be trusted to stick to a deal. Except Israel and Saudi Arabia, perhaps, which think they are getting their way on this, but haven't yet grasped how badly it's being done. The Iranian Party of Hate and Nasty Old Pious Folk will gain a big advantage over the Party of Cooperation and Nice Young Skeptical People as the population becomes more united around the belief that the US is the cause of all their problems. MEK will be more hated than ever.

There will definitely be no deal with North Korea, where people already believe the US cannot be trusted, after the gradual abandonment of its Agreed Framework commitments between 2002 and 2005, now will mistrust it twice as much with the evidence that Donald Trump cannot be trusted to keep a commitment (they could of course have looked at his business and marital careers on that). Or if Kim Jong-un consents to something, it will be with the understanding that Trump is desperate to look as if he's accomplished something and will sign whatever he's asked to sign and it will not be to America's advantage. And the negotiations between North and South Korea will take US interests less and less into consideration (which is probably a good thing).

There's also a spike in oil prices already beginning partly because of the uncertainty as to where Iran will be able to sell its oil, and Boeing losing contracts to sell (commercial) airplanes to Iran worth something like $16 billion, and who knows what other losses. This isn't going to be nice for anybody, matter of fact, but (given that Iran doesn't have a lot to begin with) the US stands to lose the most, because Trump insisted on doing this stupid thing but nobody worked out a plan for carrying it out or considered what the consequences might be. The epistemic closure within which the Republican Party lives now isn't just making them cruel, violent, and dishonest; it's giving them really bad judgment.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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