Despite making a series of unnecessary concessions, Donald Trump’s policy toward North Korea appears to be unraveling. The rogue nuclear state launched two rounds of missiles overnight – despite Trump’s boast that he brought an end to North Korea’s weapons testing – and yesterday, the Pentagon said it’s suspended talks with Pyongyang about recovering the remains of U.S. service members killed during the Korean war.
And yet, the last we heard from the White House, the American president reiterated that the North Korean dictator knows that Trump is “with him.”
But as strange as it is to see the Republican embrace a nuclear-armed dictator who keeps firing missiles into the sea, Trump’s policy toward North Korea is clear and coherent compared to his posture toward Iran. Here was the American president last night at a rally in northern Florida:
“I hope to be able at some point – maybe it won’t happen, possibly won’t – to sit down and work out a fair deal [with Iran]. We’re not looking to hurt anybody.
“We want a fair deal. We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons. It’s all we want.”
That might be more persuasive if it weren’t for the fact that Trump already had what he said he wants. There was an international nuclear agreement in place with Iran, which according to the president’s own team, was working exactly as intended – right up until Trump abandoned the policy one year ago this week for reasons that he’s never fully explained.
If “all” the administration wants is for Iran not to have nuclear weapons, all Trump had to do was allow the policy to keep working effectively. He did the opposite, which has led Iran to start backing away from its commitments under the deal.
The result is a dynamic in which the Republican is embracing a rogue nuclear state firing missiles, while thumbing his nose at a country that was complying with an international agreement the United States negotiated.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasted yesterday that the administration’s policy toward Iran has “already achieved historic success.” I have no idea why he would think that – or more to the point, why he would expect anyone else to believe such a claim.
Trump has created an incoherent policy that’s isolated the United States, strengthened Iranian hardliners, and led Iran to take steps toward the nuclear program it had previously abandoned.
Which part of this looks like “success”?
Heather Hurlburt wrote a good piece on this yesterday, explaining, “In sum, Washington’s actions over the last year have yielded no actual progress in dealing with the threats Iran poses to nuclear security, regional security, or domestic oppression. And with its threat today, Tehran presents Washington with a nasty dilemma: Move further away from European partners who try to meet Iran’s demands in hopes of keeping its centrifuges silent, or return to the unstable world in which Iran is moving toward nuclear capability.”
This was an easy mess to avoid, but Trump stumbled into it for reasons no one seems able to identify. The Republican hit the first domino, setting off a series of events, without any real sense of where things were supposed to end up.