Yesterday, I saw reports that President Trump had agreed to have Rand Paul talk with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who is in New York City this week for a U.N. conference. The reports struck me as questionable.
Is Trump impatient or even disillusioned with his own Iran policy? He might be. Is he unhappy with the advisers who urged him to adopt the policy? If he’s unhappy with the policy, he likely blames his advisers. He never blames himself.
Does Trump want an emissary to serve as a back channel in talks with Iran’s foreign minister? Perhaps. It’s plausible to believe that he might want to deal with Iran through an approach similar to the one he employed with North Korea.
But Rand Paul? I wasn’t convinced that Trump would select as his emissary a figure whose views on dealing with Iran are diametrically opposed to the administration’s current approach.
Today, Trump denied that he has tapped Senator Paul for this role. Asked whether he has requested Paul to serve as his emissary, the president responded: “No I don’t know anything about that other than I have spoken to Sen. Paul, and Sen. Paul is somebody I have a very good relationship with.” Trump added that “if [Paul] had some ideas, I would listen,” but “I didn’t appoint him, no.”
I’m not sure this is a full denial. Maybe Paul appointed himself and Trump didn’t object. I hope not.
In my view, Trump’s stated policy regarding Iran is confused, if not incoherent. He says he’s not seeking regime change, but wants to keep the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But regime change is probably the only way to keep Iran from obtaining nukes, other than through an attack on Iranian facilities. And Trump seems clear that he doesn’t want to attack Iran.
I suspect that Trump actually desires a regime change, though not one brought about through U.S. military action, but doesn’t want to say so. That’s only my guess, but it does give coherence to Trump’s policy, which, by squeezing Iran economically, offers some hope (how much is not clear) of leading to regime change.
In event, even assuming that Trump should deploy a back channel emissary to Iran, Rand Paul isn’t the guy for the job. Paul isn’t “America first,” he’s “blame America first.” I infer from Paul’s past utterances that he likely believes it’s America’s fault that Iran wants nukes, on the theory that if only we would pull out of the Middle East, Iran wouldn’t perceive a need nukes.
Rich Lowry has pointed out:
[Paul] thought what was wrong with President Barack Obama’s Syria policy was that we weren’t engaging the Russians enough. . .[H]e held out the Syria chemical-weapons deal — a humiliation for the United States that secured Bashar Assad in power — as a model for future diplomacy. He thought the Russians were a partner for peace, right on the cusp of them launching a war.
I hope President Trump is being truthful when he denies that he has appointed Paul to talk with the Iranians on his behalf, and that he no intention of having the Kentucky Senator be an emissary to the mullahs.