The Cost of Leaving the Iran Deal

A Professor's Perspective on Current Events

General Wesley Clark U.S. Military (Ret.)
By General Wesley Clark U.S. Military (Ret.)

President Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Iran deal and seek to reimpose sanctions proves one thing: the president isn’t afraid to pull the trigger.

This article originally premiered on CNBC.

Some advocates of the treaty would say, yes, he pulled the trigger on a nuclear pistol pointed at his own head, but, let’s take a look at the facts, and then project what is likely to happen.

  • President Trump on Tuesday said he would exit the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Here’s how the decision is likely to play out in the region and why it could lead a third conflict in the region and another failed state.

European firms are desperate to do business with Iran, but have been held up by fears that Trump might decide to put sanctions back in place, and they have put a lot of pressure on the German and French governments to help avoid this outcome.

Now, in the wake of the president’s decision, they will probably redouble the political pressures on their governments to seek a better deal and get the sanctions lifted.

Iran is struggling with its economy, in part because the hoped-for benefits of lifting sanctions have yet to materialize. Now they are under even more pressure. Some in Iran have threatened to retaliate by reinitiating their nuclear program – but there are other considerations.

Israel is concerned about Iranian military preparations in Syria, as well as a nuclear threat, and has been warning Iran and the United States.

Israel has already struck Iranian preparations in Syria several times. But, over the years, Israel has several times sought U.S. help, or at least U.S. support and back-up in striking Iran’s nuclear program.

Under the Obama Administration, the answer was, No. Under President Trump, and with the emerging condominium of interests between the Saudi’s and the Israeli’s, the possibility of war between Israel and Iran is rising.

“Some advocates of the treaty would say, yes, he pulled the trigger on a nuclear pistol pointed at his own head, but, let’s take a look at the facts, and then project what is likely to happen.”

Were that to happen, President Trump’s actions in quitting the Iran accord would place a large share of the responsibility on the United States, increasing the likelihood that the U.S. would, in fact, support and reinforce Israel.

Saudi Arabia would be only too pleased to see Israel, with the backing of the U.S., strike Iran, as Iran well understands, especially if this were to disrupt Iran’s ability to sell its petroleum.

War would also likely disrupt Iran’s Hezbollah party in Lebanon and curtail Iran’s movement toward the Mediterranean.

Russia, like Saudi Arabia, would welcome a spike in the price of oil, and the subsequent opportunity to expand its armament sales in the region. It will not be struck by either Israel or the United States, should the U.S. engage militarily, nor will it defend Iran.

Turkey would not be unhappy to see a regional rival struck and Iranian military efforts in Syria disrupted.

Thus, weighing the factors in balance, there is good reason for Iran to be open to European proposals to strengthen the provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal, and then try again to gain U.S. support.

Over many years the Iranian government has been hardline, determined, but, ultimately, rational. Only time will tell whether they respond now with outraged nationalism, and restart their nuclear program, or whether the cooler heads will prevail.

My own bet would be for a brief period – a few weeks – of calm while the Europeans try to salvage the deal by negotiating some marginal enhancements.

They might succeed if they can assuage Iranian pride by becoming the submissive demandeurs. But Iran has long anticipated strikes by Israel or the U.S., and has no doubt prepared assiduously. We should expect them to resist anything that seems to be “blackmail” by the Great Satan.

If this isn’t resolved in a few weeks, Iran will likely move to complete its nuclear weapons program.

This article is part of our Professor’s Perspective series—a place for experts to share their views and opinions on current events.

Should Israel and the U.S. strike, the hardliners in Iran will reckon that this will only increase popular support for the regime, while in Washington the unrealistic hopes that a few strikes will bring regime change will be replaced by the grim recognition that these strikes will lead the way to the third major U.S. military engagement in the Middle East begun without a clear strategy for successful conclusion.

The hardliners on both sides will have confirmed the enemy they have long decried. The world will see a destructive, futile, and useless war, likely to lead to yet another failed state.

For more with General Clark, check out American Military History: From Colonials to Counterinsurgents Wondrium!