He’s finally done it. Donald Trump has made good on his promise to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and promised a new sanctions blitz against Tehran.
Though a surprise to no one – British diplomats had already declared US involvement in the deal dead well before Trump’s announcement yesterday evening – its ramifications have immediately been felt, despite the insistence of the European signatories to the deal that they will keep it alive.
Theresa May, Anglea Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have urged Trump not to obstruct the deal’s implementation but, as Brett Bruen, an alumnus of the Obama White House, argues convincingly for the NS here, the departure of the US is a huge obstruction to the normal flow of power politics in the region – one that may prove too big to overcome.
Two responses to last night’s decision underline this. The first is Tehran’s insistence that it will resume its uranium enrichment programme “within weeks” if the deal cannot be salvaged. Trump said it was impossible to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the structure of the agreement, but in trashing it, he may well have given Iran the means, motive and opportunity to produce it sooner than expected.
The second is that Israel apparently responded almost immediately to the news with airstrikes on Iranian-linked military targets in Syria, which they and others fear is on the road to becoming a client state of Tehran. Notably, though Benjamin Netanyahu is against the nuclear deal, senior figures in the Israeli military are supportive for this very reason. In a no-deal scenario, Iran might find its strategic interests best served in hastening down that path and driving a wedge between the US, Europe, China and Russia.
Closer to home, there are political consequences for the other main players. Domestically, Macron had made much of his ability to keep Trump on board – going as far as to propose a wholesale renegotiation of the whole deal in order to keep the president happy – and got nothing. The question for Macron is now this: what was the point of that performative bromance?
Ditto Boris Johnson, who chose to appeal to Trump’s vanity and short attention span on Fox News over the weekend in order to urge the cable-loving president not to ditch the deal. He got nothing. So, too, have May’s repeated calls for the US not to walk away amounted to nothing, despite the hand-holding.
Therein lies the lesson for America’s European allies. Even when you choose to play the diplomatic game on Trump’s own, inscrutable terms, he is still very much liable to ignore you, no matter how high the stakes. Iran illustrates this perfectly: having gambled on embracing electoral kryptonite and lost, Macron and May face revulsion at home and trouble abroad.