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Pompeo tries (and fails) to defend one of Trump's biggest mistakes

Mike Pompeo this week tried to defend Donald Trump's abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal. It really didn't go well.
Image: Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Interview
Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, on July 25, 2019.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke this week at the Zionist Organization of America's 2021 virtual gala, and as JNS reported, the Kansas Republican tried to defend the Trump administration's abandonment of the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

"We were told in the administration, 'You can't end the terrible Iran deal because it will make it more likely that there'd be war and that Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon.' But we ended our participation in that terrible deal," said Pompeo. "We applied maximum economic pressure to Iran and to its leadership. We brought Iran to its knees."

No. That's not what happened.

First, the Iran deal wasn't "terrible"; it was a striking success that froze Iran's nuclear program and created an unprecedented system of monitoring and verification. Even as Donald Trump abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), his own foreign policy and national security team told him it was working exactly as intended.

Second, Pompeo's pitch was so weak, it's hard not to wonder whether he thought it through. The way the former cabinet secretary boasted this week, he and Trump were specifically warned that exiting the JCPOA would create new national security threats for the West, at which point the Republican administration did it anyway. This is worth bragging about, why?

And third, the idea that Pompeo helped bring Iran "to its knees" would be more compelling if it were in any way true. What the Trump administration's policy actually did was bring Iran to its feet — at which point it walked to its equipment and started enriching uranium again.

In other words, Pompeo thought it'd be a good idea this week to pat himself on the back for both failing and making the United States less safe.

None of this escaped Pompeo's successor. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held an end-of-year news conference yesterday and explained, with regards to Iran's nuclear program, "[W]e are where we are because of what I consider to be one of the worst decisions made in American foreign policy in the last decade, and that was getting out of the Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA, an agreement that had put Iran's nuclear program in a box."

As diplomatic rhetoric goes, this wasn't subtle. The Biden administration has spent much of the year trying to clean up Trump's messes, and tending to the international nuclear negotiations is high on the list.

Unfortunately for everyone, cleaning up this specific mess is proving to be incredibly difficult. Late last week, the seventh round of talks between JCPOA participants ended in Vienna with no obvious signs of progress, and no scheduled eighth round.

Rob Malley, the United States Special Envoy for Iran, told CNN yesterday, "At some point in the not-so-distant future, we will have to conclude that the JCPOA is no more, and we'd have to negotiate a wholly new different deal, and of course we'd go through a period of escalating crisis."

That's a crisis that would not exist were it not for the Trump/Pompeo failure.

As for Pompeo's audience, the Washington Post reported earlier this month that a growing number of former Israeli security officials not only believe Israel was wrong to oppose the Iran deal in 2015, they're also acknowledging the seriousness of Trump's mistake in 2018.

Trump's policy enabled "Iran to accumulate a lot more material, work on advanced centrifuges, and maybe other things that we don't know about, all which brought Iran closer than ever before" to acquiring a nuclear bomb, said Yoel Guzansky, former head of the Iran desk at Israel's National Security Council. "The nuclear deal was flawed, but at least it put a lid on Iran's advancement, which we don't have now."

Instead of boasting, maybe Pompeo ought to try apologizing?