Obama's Middle East Policy Is Causing Problems for Donald Trump

A voter holds a flag outside the Iranian consulate in central London June 14, 2013. The building was the focus for demonstrators, as it was used as a venue for British based Iranians to cast their vote in their country's election to choose a new president. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Left untouched, the nuclear agreement ensures—rather than prevents—Iran from getting nuclear weapons within the next few years.

President Trump reluctantly agreed to recertify the nuclear deal with Iran in July, but he indicated that he would not do so again in October. Trump will likely keep his word and not certify the agreement again because it is not in the U.S. national-security interest to do so, according to recent media reports. In fact, the Associated Press has reported that the president will likely announce the decertification in an Iran policy speech that he is tentatively set to deliver on October 12.

Forecasting this decision led to much speculation over what it might mean for the future of the agreement that the Obama administration sealed in 2015 over the opposition of the American public. Although the move represents a major step in undoing Obama’s chief foreign-policy legacy that reoriented America away from its traditional regional allies and towards Iran, many are now asking, “What does this move mean and what comes next?”

The short answer is that decertifying the agreement doesn’t necessarily kill the deal, but that action could be used as leverage to negotiate badly needed patches to the gaping holes in the agreement on things like verification, ballistic missiles and the sunset clauses. If the amorphous structure of the deal is to be maintained, then those fixes are necessary to arrive at an agreement that might be in America’s interest. Left untouched, the nuclear agreement ensures—rather than prevents—Iran from getting nuclear weapons within the next few years.

It bears noting that there are no surprises here to those familiar with the deal. Many warned of these fatal flaws during the negotiations in 2014 and 2015. I wrote one of many such articles describing the deficiencies and proposing solutions in March 2015, months before the deal was finalized. Apparently, Team Obama was also aware that it would face a blowback because they promised to seal a deal that was substantially different than what it ultimately delivered. Put another way, the Obama administration not only effectively pulled a bait-and-switch on the vehicle it promised to deliver, it sold the public on the safety features of defective airbags.

It remains true that the Obama administration was bent on finishing a deal at any cost, and there was an overly compliant media landscape that simply parroted White House talking points. Those of us who opposed key components of the deal were subject to a campaign designed to demonize us as warmongers.

What’s the Deal?

Part of the confusion surrounding the pathway forward today is a misunderstanding over what actually constitutes the nebulous Iran deal. For the United States, it consists of three key documents: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR 2231), and the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). Together they comprise what is referred to as the Iran deal.

The JCPOA is the main multilateral agreement negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) that deals only with the nuclear issue. It is an unsigned, nonbinding political commitment, as the State Department assistant secretary for legislative affairs clarified in a November 2015 letter to former Rep. Mike Pompeo. Its structure also means that President Trump can walk away from the commitment and reinstate the sanctions lifted by Mr. Obama’s executive orders for any reason and at any time.

UN Security Council resolution 2231 (UNSCR 2231) locked in the deal internationally and has additional provisions and restrictions pertaining to Iran’s odious behavior outside of the JCPOA, such as its ballistic-missiles development and other reprehensible regional activities. Finally, there’s the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) passed by the U.S. Congress in 2015, which gives it oversight of the deal. It is this third aspect of the deal that provides the upcoming opportunity to address the overall shortcomings of the agreement inherent in the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231 and it remains an internal, American requirement that applies only to itself.