Trying to parse Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran agreement shows why “balanced news” may end up destroying the world. We’ll examine why in a moment, but first, let’s summarize Trump’s reasoning – or what passes for reasoning in his addled, emotionally adolescent, ADHD brain.
He says it was a “bad deal; a terrible deal.” As Tony Schwartz, the actual author of The Art of the Deal notes, Trump—who barely read the book—has come to believe he was the author of The Art of the Deal, and making deals has become, in his mind, his greatest forte. So naturally, any deal struck by someone else—especially Obama—is second rate and something he could improve upon.
Meanwhile, Trump the “dealmaker” just showed himself—and our country—to be completely unreliable just weeks before meeting with North Korea to attempt to hammer out an agreement on nuclear bombs. He’s sabotaged himself and he doesn’t even seem to know it.
Back to the Iran deal. When something isn’t broken, you have to create the illusion of failure so you can “fix” it and so Trump endeavored create one. He had three main criticisms.
First, he said that the sunsetting clauses in the agreement were “immanent,” claiming they ended after a few years. In fact, many of the provisions are in effect for fifteen years, and others for ten. But here’s the thing—by backing out of the deal, Trump is essentially making the termination of the provisions he claims to be worried about immediate. How does going from a decade or more of halting Iran’s nuclear program to no halt at all solve the “problem” of sunsetting provisions? Clearly it doesn’t.
Second, he claimed that inspectors were being intimidated, and questioned the adequacy of inspections. But Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which conducts the inspections, said Iran is obeying the rules, and went on to say:
So far, the IAEA has had access to all locations it needed to visit. At present, Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime.
The fact is, the nature of the inspections, together with other constraints on what Iran can purchase on the international market, make it all but impossible for them to make progress toward developing a nuclear weapons program for at least fifteen years.
Third, he complained that the deal did not constrain Iran’s ability to test ballistic missiles. True enough, but at the moment, they have the capacity to develop missiles that won’t have a nuclear payload. Trump’s “solution” would enable them to continue to develop their missiles, but it would also allow them to deliver a nuclear payload in the not-too-distant future. If Trump is such a great dealmaker, why wouldn’t he seek to add constraints on missile testing and development to the agreement, rather than scrapping it?
There were other objections Trump made, including the fact that Iran would get a windfall as the sanctions were removed, and his claim that Iran lied to the world prior to the agreement, suggesting they couldn’t be trusted. But sanctions are a carrot and stick approach—imposed to create incentives to change; relaxed and removed as the desired change occurs—so it’s hard to see how a supposed “windfall” to Iran is a bad thing, when they’re doing what we want. Moreover, the money was Iran’s to begin with. The agreement released money that had been frozen and in one case, paid interest on money Iran had paid for equipment that was never delivered. As for trust, we can go back to Reagan’s observation on nuclear agreements, “Trust, but verify.” And the inspections required in the Iran deal are more stringent than those that many experts—and many Republicans—found perfectly acceptable in the deal Reagan hammered out with the Soviet Union.
The point is, Trump’s objections have no foundation, and his actions actually exacerbate the very issues he raises. Essentially, what he’s done is to increase the likelihood of a nuclear conflict in the Mideast, in the name of preventing one. And he had no alternative plan. Ready, fire aim. Just as he and his Republican cronies did with their attempt to repeal Obamacare.
Look, let’s not mince words. This is idiotic, and it is extremely dangerous. Yes, there were flaws in the agreement. But it did stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons for more than fifteen years. To scuttle this achievement without any alternative plan or any consideration of some of the unintended consequences (an increase in Russian influence, and undermining moderates in Iran just when they were gaining momentum, for example) is simply madness.
But across the “liberal” media, you’ll find stories representing both “sides.” From NPR to the New York Times to the Washington Post, articles presenting the rational for Trump’s act of idiocy abound. OK, the majority of articles are critical of the decision, but even these have paragraphs devoted to the other “side,” ‘cause you gotta be “balanced,” you know.
One of the concerns people raised as Trump began his presidency by appointing an obscene list of foxes to guard our collective national chicken coup, while breaking campaign promises at a rate that was grotesque even by the standards of politicians, was that we not let Trump’s irrational, infantile, plutocratic, mendacious behavior become the new normal.
But by treating what is manifestly one of the stupidest, least thought out and dangerous decisions in modern history as if it were something with “sides” the media has done exactly that, and that effectively gives him license to continue his destruction of the national and international commons.