Decertificaton of the Iran deal without withdrawal: What does it get us?

I wrote here about the Trump administration’s likely decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. In the same post, I quoted reports that Trump was unlikely, decertification notwithstanding, to push Congress to impose on Iran the sanctions we lifted as part of the nuclear deal.

It now seems clear that, indeed, Trump will not lobby for reimposing the sanctions. If anything, he is lobbying not to have sanctions renewed.

According to Eli Lake, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has met with a group of Democratic senators, in part to assure them that the White House is not asking Congress to reimpose the sanctions. A similar message has been delivered to prominent Republican critics of the Iran deal.

Congress will oblige. Lake notes that even Sen. Tom Cotton, as strong an opponent of the Iran deal as can be found in the Senate, said at the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this week that reimposing sanctions would be a “backward-looking step.” Cotton urged “Congress and the president, working together” to “lay out how the deal must change and, if it doesn’t, the consequences Iran will face.”

In my earlier post, I argued that scuttling the Iran deal might very well cause Iran to press ahead in short order with completing the development of nuclear weapons. It might also lead to stepped up Iranian military aggression in the Middle East.

Thus, Trump is well-advised not to want Congress to scuttle the deal unless he’s prepared to take military action against Iran or back Israeli military action. All indications are that Trump is not so prepared, and his reluctance is understandable.

But absent such willingness, will decertification by Trump produce any benefit? We would all like to see the mullahs change the deal. But this seems unlikely.

Sen. Cotton says we must lay out the consequences Iran will face for refusing to make changes. We can divide these consequences into two categories — military action and economic action.

Iran surely senses that Trump isn’t willing to fight. Thus, fear of military consequences is highly unlikely to cause the regime to change the deal.

What about new economic sanctions that don’t included the crippling ones eliminated via the nuclear deal. The current nuclear deal is the best evidence of the concessions Iran was willing to make on the nuclear front at a time when severe sanctions imposed by a united West were causing it serious economic hardship. Why would a less vigorous sanctions regime imposed by a less unified West on an economy that’s now in better shape (thanks to Obama’s deal) cause Iran to agree to new restrictions on its nuclear program?

I doubt that they would.

Reuel Marc Gerecht at the Weekly Standard takes a look at Trump’s options regarding the Iran deal. He agrees that any hope of Iran accepting changes to the deal depends on a credible U.S. military threat. He writes:

If economic coercion is going to work, if it is possible to oblige the Iranians peacefully to give up what Obama allowed them, it will require a credible military threat.

I don’t think the Trump administration poses such a threat at least not now, with its focus still on ISIS. And even if, at some point, perhaps with different advisers, a military option becomes more credible, the mullahs are, as Gerecht says, capable of returning to the negotiation table and tying up the U.S. and its allies with the promise of diplomacy.

The title of Gerecht’s piece is “No Easy Way Out.” He’s right — there is none. And the only hard way out may be war, an option that should give all of us pause.

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