President Donald Trump pauses before signing an executive order about regulatory reform in the Oval Office of the White House February 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

On the Iran deal, Trump started with the answer and worked backwards

Updated

There was an amusing moment in the Oval Office two weeks ago, with Donald Trump sitting alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, when a reporter asked the American leader whether he’d consider honoring the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

“It was a terrible deal,” Trump said. “It should have never, ever been made. We could have made a good deal or a reasonable deal. The Iran deal is a terrible deal. We paid $150 billion. We gave $1.8 billion in cash. That’s actual cash, barrels of cash. It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It should have never been made.”

As part of the same answer, he added, “We’ll see…. We will be talking about it.”

I laughed, not just because Trump had no idea what he was talking about, but also because of the juxtaposition between the different parts of the answer. It’d be like asking someone if they wanted to join you at a restaurant and hearing your friend reply, “It’s a terrible place. I’ve always hated it. The food is awful; the service is ridiculous; and the prices are insulting. I don’t understand how such a pathetic establishment keeps its doors open.”

Your friend then adds, “We’ll see,” as if he or she still has an open mind.

When it comes to the fate of the Iran deal, which the president appears to know very little about, he hasn’t exactly been subtle about his intentions. As regular readers know, 

Trump has called the deal “terrible” and “horrible,” without fully explaining how he arrived at such a conclusion. As a candidate, he declared, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Just one month into his candidacy, he said the Iran deal “poses a direct national security threat.” Two weeks later, Trump added that the international agreement “will go down as one of the dumbest [and] most dangerous misjudgments ever entered into in [the] history of our country.”

After wrapping up the GOP nomination, he went so far as to say the deal is likely to “lead to nuclear holocaust.”

As president, Trump went into “meltdown” mode when his own team has told him that the policy is actually working as intended, because the facts were simply inconceivable to him. He knows the policy is a disaster, so when reality pointed in a different direction, Trump found it necessary to reject reality.

And as such, the president did what effective leaders should never do: he started with the answer and then worked backwards to reach the conclusion that made him feel better about his own assumptions.

Remember this New York Times report from July?

President Trump, frustrated that his national security aides have not given him any options on how the United States can leave the Iran nuclear deal, has instructed them to find a rationale for declaring that the country is violating the terms of the accord.

American officials have already told allies they should be prepared to join in reopening negotiations with Iran or expect that the United States may abandon the agreement, as it did the Paris climate accord.

“Find a rationale.” The president’s instructions were to find proof, not of reality, but of the amateur president’s demands.

Trump will make his decision official in about an hour, and who knows, maybe he’ll have a dramatic, 11th-hour change of heart. He seems to have a special fondness for unpredictability and ignoring his own commitments.

But by all appearances, the president settled on this policy quite a while ago.