The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War with Iran

Donald Trump

by Trita Parsi

Something extraordinary has happened in Washington. President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October—the facts be damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military confrontation. His advisors have even been kind enough to explain how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly telegraphed.

The unmasking of Trump’s plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran’s fair play. But Trump threw a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to Foreign Policy, the adults in the room—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster—eventually calmed Trump down but only on the condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to blow up the deal by October.

Prior to the revelation of Trump’s Iran certification meltdown, most analysts and diplomats believed that Trump’s rhetoric on Iran was just that—empty talk. His bark was worse than his bite, as demonstrated when he certified Iran’s compliance back in April and when he renewed sanctions waivers in May. The distance between his rhetoric and actual policy was tangible. Rhetorically, Trump officials described Iran as the root of all problems in the Middle East and as the greatest state sponsor of terror. Trump even suggested he might quit the deal.

In action, however, President Trump continued to waive sanctions and admitted that Iran was adhering to the deal. As a result, many concluded that Trump would continue to fulfill the obligations of the deal while sticking to his harsh rhetoric in order to appease domestic opponents of the nuclear deal—as well as Trump’s allies in Saudi Arabia and Israel.

But now, assessments are changing. The tangible danger of Trump’s malice on the Iran deal—as well as the danger of the advice of the “adults in the room”—became further clarified this week as tidbits of the reality TV star’s plans began to leak.

How to Wreck a Deal

Recognizing that refusing to certify Iran would isolate the United States, Trump’s advisors gave him another plan. Use the spot-inspections mechanism of the nuclear deal, they suggested, to demand access to a whole set of military sites in Iran. Once Iran balks—which it will since the mechanism is only supposed to be used if tangible evidence exists that those sites are being used for illicit nuclear activities—Trump can claim that Iran is in violation, blowing up the nuclear deal while shifting the blame to Tehran.

Thus, the advice of the adults in the room—those who we are supposed to restrain Trump—was not to keep the highly successful nuclear deal that has taken both an Iranian bomb and war with Iran off the table. Rather, they recommended killing it in a manner that would conceal Trump’s malice and shift the cost to Iran.

According to The New York Times, the groundwork for this strategy has already been laid. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) calls this strategy “radical enforcement” of the deal. “If they don’t let us in,” Corker told The Washington Post, “boom.” Then he added: “You want the breakup of this deal to be about Iran. You don’t want it to be about the U.S., because we want our allies with us.”

This is a charade, a rerun of the machinations that resulted in the Iraq war. It doesn’t matter what Iran does or doesn’t do. If it were up to Trump, he’d never have accepted that Iran was in compliance in the first place. He admitted as much to the Wall Street Journal. “If it was up to me, I would have had them [the Iranians] non-compliant 180 days ago.”

Sounding supremely confident of the “radical implementation” strategy, Trump added that “I think they’ll be noncompliant [in October].” In so doing, he further confirmed doubts that the process is about determining whether Iran is in compliance or not. The administration is committed to finding a way to claim Iran has violated the accord, regardless of the facts—just as George W. Bush did with Iraq.

Potential for Backfire

But Trump’s confidence may be misplaced on two levels. First, abusing the inspection mechanisms of the deal may prove harder than Trump has been led to believe. The inspections are the cornerstone of the deal, and Iran’s ability to cheat on the deal is essentially non-existent as long as the integrity and efficiency of the inspections remain in tact. But if Trump begins to abuse the mechanism to fabricate a conflict, he will end up undermining the inspections regime and actually enhance the ability of those in Iran who would like to pursue a covert nuclear program. Precisely because of the commitment of Europe and others to non-proliferation, they are likely to resist Trump’s efforts to tinker with the inspections.

Second, by revealing his hand, Trump has displayed his duplicity for all to see. That includes the American public, whose anti-war sentiments remain strong and are a key reason they supported the nuclear deal in the first place.

The American public knows the Iraq playbook quite well. Trump’s own supporters remain enraged by the disastrous war with Iraq. They know how they got played. It’s difficult to imagine why they would allow themselves to get played again by a president who has left little doubt about his intent to deceive.

Trita Parsi is the president of the National Iranian American Council and author of Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy.

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  1. Donald Trump lacks maturity and eventually will force Iran to make the nuclear bomb, just like North Korea. Some one in the US needs to stop this mad man before it is too late.

  2. The madness in the American psyche is far deeper than the POTUSTRUMPET. We are always told that the powers of the US Pres. are limited, but Trump is treated like a spoiled brat who has to get his way, despite his gross ignorance and all the other faults.
    The new potential laws overwhelmingly supported by the Congress show how belligerent, arrogant, unrealistic in terms of world opinion, irresponsible are the “Representatives of the American people” (the population who in polls make it clear they do not want global destruction) .

  3. Clearly, Trump has a bee in his bonnet, when it comes to Iran. Pathetic ignorance, and stupidity.

  4. “The American public knows the Iraq playbook quite well…..”

    The American public!? do they matter? Was it the American public that ended the Vietnam War or the determination/sacrifices made by the North Vietnamese? Where were the American pubic when the long list of the US engineered military coups took place and the ruthless support for right-wing military dictatorships all over the world, or the horrific invasion of Iraq in 2003!?

    Millions have been murdered by the US and its subordinates in the name of ‘the American Public’. The crimes committed by the American administrations in Iraq before and after the 2003 invasion have become a history now; millions of innocent people have been killed and wounded, many in Saddam’s chemical attacks and more after the 2003 invasion by the US, but how many American politicians have been prosecuted by the American public?! Where should we draw the line between the public and the state in America: half of the American public voted for this unstable merchant of blood, just as they did for Bush – this is the reality of ‘the American public’ which manifests the crisis of ‘democracy’ in America, now an ‘illusion’ of democracy!

    The plan to attack Iran and the upsurge of anti-Iranian articles and sickening predictions all over the American media have nothing to do with Iran’s compliance with the agreement to prevent obtaining the imaginary nuclear bomb; the roots of the crisis are in the weakening of dollar and the Imperialists’ hegemony and the Zionism shaken by a powerful country whose youth have no fear of the barbarians, even if it be walking barefoot across minefields in order to defend their integrity and Iran’s independence.

    The American public is dead, so is the UN, except for a small minority who continue to challenge the cynical American mass media. We now are protected by the laws of metropolitan jungle. We in Iran have had to live with these Western laws, if not since the invasion of Iran by the British army in WWI and WWII or after the 1953 violation of our democracy, at least since the 1980 American-British-Saudi-Iraqi invasion. Of 8000 civilians who were severely affected in Iran’s Sardasht by Saddam’s chemical attacks, 4000 were women – not to mention 10s of 1000s of soldiers who died immediately in war zones or many who still are dying a slow death: that was the first ‘American’ law, a manifestation of the values of the Western ‘civilization’. We in Iran cannot afford to believe in a rational world; we have got to be prepared to face the brutal reality of the American ‘civilization’, because the American public is dead, the American Zionist media speak for them and a handful of hateful Americans rule over their lives!

    Where are the influential voices in America today? Where are the American intellectuals?

    Sep 13, 2016 – The Defense Ministry launched the Ofek-11 reconnaissance satellite into orbit from an air force base in central Israel.

    Should the US disregard this Israeli launch because they are the chosen people? WESTERN HYPOCRISY !!!

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