Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran deal is a lesson in the perils of taking irreversible positions when you know nothing about the subject. He, in line with most of the Republican Party, denounced it for a variety of reasons — the chief one being that it was negotiated under President Barack Obama. To give Obama credit for greatly reducing the threat posed by a hated government was more than any of them could stomach.
There is no good substantive case to be made for killing it. Trump has complained that it provides for inadequate inspections and would allow Iran to acquire a nuclear arsenal in the long run. His decision is likely to mean that there will be no inspections and Iran will be free to acquire a nuclear arsenal much sooner.
Pulling out undermines American influence by spurning not only Iran but also the other governments that helped bring the deal about — Russia, China, Britain, France and the European Union. It informs our allies and adversaries that we can’t be trusted to abide by an agreement that we entered and that the other signatories have complied with. Kim Jong Un will take note.
But what else could Trump do? He has reviled it so often as the worst deal ever negotiated that he could hardly change his mind. To preserve it would mean conceding he was wrong, along with most of his allies in Congress — and that Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry were right. Trump is not congenitally averse to changing his mind, but to do so on this one would have been humiliating.
Trump cited Iran’s missile tests, support of the Syrian regime and financial aid to violent groups as grounds to cancel an agreement that was not intended to address them. If he wanted to extract concessions from Iran on those other matters, it would have made more sense to keep this deal and expand on it.
His appeal to Iran to reach a new agreement is transparently insincere and absurd. By killing this one, he ensured that the only option for trying to get Iran to do what we want is military force.
If Iran resumes the activities it was barred from pursuing under the accord, Trump will then face whether to go to war. Much of his address today suggested he is inclined to do just that.
At the end of his announcement, a reporter asked how his decision would “make America safer.” Trump had no answer, because there isn’t one.
Steve Chapman, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/chapman.