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Trump’s Iran nuclear decision ripe for exploitation

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In the eyes of President Donald Trump, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is dead, and Iran faces new harsh, “high level” economic sanctions.

We all must feel déjà vu, because President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the JCPOA, based on unsubstantiated “evidence” of a covert nuclear program in Iran, sounds like the weapons of mass destruction hunt in Iraq in 2003. His announcement came complete with ultimatums, warnings, threats and sanctions. Invoking the support of France, the United Kingdom and “friends” in the Middle East is an attempt to project the image of multilateral endorsements for the United States’ withdrawal.

{mosads}What will the United States gain from pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal?  What are the implications for Iran, the Middle East region, and even global security?


First, let us examine the lead-up to this announcement. Hezbollah just gained a major electoral victory in Lebanon. Iran’s ally, the President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, has maintained its power and proven its longevity, thanks to support from Iran and Russia. The Sunni Arab leaders in the Middle East have lobbied against the nuclear deal, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently presented his allegations of a covert nuclear program taking place in Iran.

Second, what are the implications of this for Iran’s domestic domain? The political hardliners will exploit this development and blame President Hassan Rouhani. Meanwhile, protests against the regime continue inside Iran; however, the regime has instituted a news blackout. Clearly, the economic sanctions will exacerbate the domestic situation, because popular discontent has been based on the stagnating economy. The regime has used the assets that have been unfrozen since the JCPOA mainly for regional campaigns (Syria, Yemen, Iraq), which has angered the Iranian masses. No doubt, with new sanctions, the economic stranglehold will worsen. This could lead to more instability in the country, and potentially throughout the region.

What are the Trump administration’s goals for this move? It wants to undo everything that the Obama administration achieved. It desires to take a “hawkish” stand against Iran. It unequivocally wants to align with Saudi Arabia’s and Israel’s interests and agendas. And, it wants to isolate Iran and Hezbollah. However, this development does not send a positive message to the global community.

North Korea’s peace talks hang in the balance. Ultimately, if Iran goes nuclear, so will Saudi Arabia and perhaps other Middle Eastern powers. It conveys that the integrity of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is based on double standards, since Israel, India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, not to mention the United States, Russia and China. This also gives a green light to the “Sunni-belt” to undermine and disempower Iran and its proxies. It tells the world that the United States under the Trump administration is not concerned about destabilizing the Middle East region by means of its actions. It tells the world that nuclear non-proliferation is not a priority for the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is obsolete. The United States will do what it wants, despite what the IAEA reports on Iran’s compliance.

This move could trigger more humanitarian crises and migrant waves in the region, with aftershocks in Europe. Moreover, it shows that behind this decision a strategic vision and wisdom are missing in this calculus. In essence, the United States has no safety net for this move, nor does it have alternative strategic plans.

Even when the Obama administration and the P5+1 were negotiating the JCPOA, it was evident that the alternative to the deal would be far worse. The Middle East region continues to suffer wars and conflicts and, absent a “perfect” solution, the JCPOA was the next best framework for nuclear non-proliferation while keeping the NPT intact. Now, Iran has no framework for compliance at all. It’s a field day for the hardliners, on all sides.

Timing is everything. Given the internal protests throughout Iran, the Trump administration’s move might be the first step in many more to come to encourage and facilitate regime change.  President Trump said, “To the long-suffering people of Iran: The people of America stand with you. The future of Iran belongs to its people.” The Iranian regime has bankrupted the country’s economy and brutally repressed its people. That is undeniable. However, the suffering of the Iranian people might just be beginning.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the Naval War College. She previously served as assistant professor of political science at American University in Cairo, and as director of the international studies program at Arcadia University. She specializes in international relations, political economy, comparative politics with regional expertise in Middle East and North Africa and South Asia, and Islamic studies. She is proficient in Arabic and Urdu.

[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]

Tags Donald Trump Iran–United States relations Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Nuclear program of Iran Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

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