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Failure of Trump's Iran policy comes into sharper focus

The more Trump thinks his policy toward Iran is working, the more reality pushes back in the opposite direction.
APTOPIX Mideast Iran Election
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians take to the street to protest the 2009 election results. Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 15, 2009.

In late January, Donald Trump seemed quite satisfied with his policy toward Iran. When he became president, the Republican wrote on Twitter, Iran "was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different."

A day later, Trump added that thanks to his agenda, U.S. policy toward Iran was finally in a "good" place.

Even at the time, the president's boast seemed bizarre. Reading this New York Times report this morning, the idea that Trump's policy toward Iran is some kind of success seems ridiculous.

Iran announced plans on Monday to stop complying with the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States withdrew from last year, leaving the door open to an "unlimited rise" in Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium amid escalating tensions between the two nations.The announcement by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization was the country's latest signal that it will abandon the pact unless the other signatories to the deal help Iran circumvent punishing United States economic sanctions imposed by President Trump.

Colin Kahl, an Obama administration veteran, responded this morning, "Trump's 'maximum pressure' campaign was supposed to induce Iran to scrap its nuclear program (which was already contained by the 2015 nuclear deal). Instead, Trump's actions have incentivized Iran to restart it, creating a completely unnecessary crisis."

It's difficult to overstate the scope of the White House's failure. For reasons no one has been able to explain, Trump abandoned the international nuclear agreement with Iran -- a policy that the president's own team said was working.

It was the first in a series of dominoes, the latest of which includes the Trump administration directing highly provocative accusations at Iran with very little evidence, and even less credibility on which to lean. Tehran opened the door to an "unlimited rise" in its enriched uranium stockpile soon after.

Complicating matters, the White House has sent "a dizzying, seemingly conflicting set of messages to Iran in recent weeks," leaving nearly everyone, including our allies, confused about the exact nature of the U.S. strategy.

For his part, Trump thinks he has proof that his approach is working: he told Fox News on Friday that, unlike during the Obama era, Iranians "haven't screamed 'death to America' lately."

As the Associated Press reported over the weekend, "The death-to-America chant is heard routinely" in Iran, and it remains a staple in hardline Iranian demonstrations.

The smart move would be a dramatic shift in the White House's direction. Trump appears too confused to understand what needs to be done.