So Trump, with the urging and most certainly the gleeful support of Israel, has pulled out of the 2015 deal with Iran to suspend its nuclear program for the lifting of US sanctions in what has been described by his detractors as stupidity and praised by his supporters as another example of Trumps 4-dimensional chess game.
And as someone who used to get paid to pay attention to what was happening in Iran I am of two minds about this, less than unexpected, move from the US.
On one hand it was known right from the start that Trump and many Republicans were not down with the deal brokered under Obama and that it was always up for review if Trump got elected.
On the other hand Europe, Iran and the rest of the parties to the deal want the deal to continue and may very well keep the deal in place and allow the US to throw its toys out of the crib while keeping things going just sans the US.
On the third hand Israel has long sought* to protect its nuclear advantage (yes the have nuclear weapons) and were never going to be cool with anything which took the pressure of its primary enemy in the Middle East: Iran.
On the fourth hand Iran, or more correctly the average person in Iran, will definitely suffer if the financial restraints are put back on and the moderates now in power will possibly have their position weakened which could lead to a new government taking over but if anyone (including Israel) thinks this will lead to a collapse of the Iranian state then they have a rude surprise awaiting them.
And for those happily celebrating the pending reunification of the Korean peninsula they might want to take a moment to reflect on the capriciousness of the US under Trump as it’s clear that just because a deal is made does not mean it’s done.
However the real issue here is not one of ideology or politics per se but one of simply the US and Israel (both nations with nuclear arsenals) not wanting any hostile nations to get such weapons themselves which from a strategic view makes sense but ignores the fact that that both Iran and even more North Korea have the means to develop and make nuclear weapons and in the case of North Korea have already done so.
Can the nuclear genie be put back in the bottle? The answer is yes but the only nations I can think of off the top of my head to willingly give up their nuclear weapons (or research) programs are Apartheid era South Africa, Libya and South Korea (who did so under guarantees that the US would place it under its own nuclear umbrella) and of the three only South Korea has come out better for it.
Of course a nation can dismantle the buildings and shut down the research facilities but the requisite knowledge will remain and in the case of Iran there is the potential that this move will provoke them to starting up their research programmes again while in the case of North Korea it’s would do little to assuage any fears that once they get rid of their own nuclear weapons they would not be subject to US military power with little or no ability to hit back.
However in the case of North Korea the jury remains out as the North has talked the talk many times without walking the walk and its history of using such tactics to stall and get concessions is known standard practice.
But to be fair this move by Trump is not going to reassure the North that any deal they do make will be honoured and the fate of the Libyan dictator Momar Gadhafi (whose body was found in a ditch) will certainly be on their minds.
Also if Iran starts up its nuclear programme expect Saudi Arabia to consider doing the same as there is little way it will want to lose in an arms race with its peer competitor in the region.
So instead of actually creating security this move may actually have the effect of worsening the security situation by driving Iran back to its research programme (possibly even clandestinely if the EU and others can’t compensate for the US slapping the sanctions back on), which in turn will place more pressure on the Saudis to consider doing the same.
Meanwhile a potential Korean peace deal could be jeopardized or even worse scuppered by the concern that the US will act in bad faith (but again I will believe the sincerity of the North Koreans when I see it) and leave the situation back to the old, tense and trigger happy status quo but with the one possible opportunity for a genuine breakthrough on one of the most intractable conflicts in the world today being thrown away for no real gain.
And while I said to a friend yesterday that I enjoyed watching Trump as he careens around like a political pinball from situation to situation with no clear rational except the most limited of short term ideological goals even I have my doubts about his game plan beyond his next Happy-meal and have the feeling that the only logic Trump operates under is that of pure power and bluff (read: bullying) rather than any reverse Machiavellian zen master.
Even Israel is going to find it hard to rationalise things outside of any short term tactical gains (but then that has always been Israel’s problem) given that it remains an enemy in the minds of many in the Middle East and its nukes have yet to solve any of its security issues except at the most extreme level. So if Iran starts up its nuclear programme again this is not going to make Israel any more secure (good job Bibi!**)
So is Trump playing some meta game with the world and we are just not smart enough to figure it out?
The answer lies in the most basic of Trumpisims, “Make America Great Again” and Trumps career as a real-estate tycoon.
Despite all the odds (even his own) Trump got elected President of the United States and similarly he worked his way up from wealthy heir with a silver spoon in his mouth to real-estate mogul and then reality TV star in a manner which has all the hall marks of a gambler and opportunist and not some master strategist with a diabolical scheme to fool us all.
Trump is doing what he is doing because, in his mind, he believes that his projection of power will return America to its previous status as the undisputed power in the world but while much of the US politics of old was pure bullying or coercion backed by the immense military and economic power that the US had the US today is much weaker and increasingly out of step with the rest of the world and previous US foreign policy was much more coherent while today US foreign policy is whatever Trump tweets that morning.
So maybe not 4D chess but perhaps 4D checkers, played in the dark, with your feet while under attack from an outraged Orangatang.
Note: the title refers to a lyric from the Motley Crue song Wildside
*-including bombing other nations nuclear research facilities while actively making their own nukes