There's never been any ambiguity about Donald Trump's disgust for the international nuclear agreement with Iran -- to my mind, perhaps the most impressive U.S. diplomatic achievement since the end of the Cold War. There's quite a bit of uncertainty, however, as to whether he knows what the Iran deal actually is.
The Republican has called the deal “terrible” and “horrible.” As a candidate, Trump 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 has gone 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 points in a different direction, Trump finds it necessary to reject reality.
I can't help but wonder, though, if maybe Trump would like the policy if he took the time to get to know it better.
This week, for example, the president made his case to Fox News, explaining why he hates the international agreement so much.
"It's no secret, I think it was one of the most incompetently drawn deals we've ever seen. $150 billion given, we got nothing. They got past the nuclear weapons very quickly."Think of this, $1.7 billion in cash. This is cash out of your pocket. I do know how many airplane loads that must be? For they have $1 million? This is $1.7 billion. Who would be authorized to do it and who are the people to deliver it? You may never see them again. Right? This is the worst deal. We got nothing."
This is not something a knowledgeable person who understands the basics of the debate would say out loud.
In fact, none of what Trump said made sense: Iran's financial benefit wasn't "cash out of your pocket"; it was Iranian money that had been frozen by sanctions. There were never any "airplane loads" of cash landing in Tehran.
As for getting "nothing" out of the policy, we actually get unprecedented access to Iran through inspections, plus the security and stability that comes with preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons. It's why members of Trump's own national security team, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and his own Secretary of Defense, have already said publicly that they want the policy to remain in place.
The point, however, isn't that the American president's approach is misguided, but rather, the trouble is he appears to be clueless. Trump has decided to oppose a policy for reasons that have nothing to do with the policy, about which he seems wholly unfamiliar.
Since the beginning of Trump's political career, there are all kinds of examples of him condemning the Iran deal, but there are literally no examples of him accurately describing what the policy is, what it does, what it includes, or what would happen if he kills it.
Or put another way, Trump has never demonstrated even a rudimentary understanding of the policy he says disgusts him so much. On the contrary, everything he says on the subject appears to be demonstrably incorrect.
The fact that the president is wrong is a problem, but it's far more alarming that he doesn't know what he's wrong about.