As Trump's Iran failures mount, a key State Dept official resigns

Trump's policy toward Iran has already been exposed as one of his most spectacular failures. A shake-up at the State Department may make matters worse.
Image: Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson Hosts Romanian President Klaus Iohannis At The State Department
The State Department seal.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

One of my favorite stories in my book details the international effort to rescue the Iran deal after Donald Trump made clear that he intended to destroy it. Starting in early 2018, U.S. allies thought if they could just prove to the White House that the JCPOA policy was working, the American president would leave it alone.

To that end, European officials invested months of effort, negotiating with a State Department lawyer named Brian Hook, who was chiefly responsible for trying to steer U.S. policy toward Iran in a more Trump-like direction. European leaders thought they were making real progress, right up until the Republican president decided to turn his back on the deal anyway.

When Trump told Emmanuel Macron about his final decision, the French president asked about the intensive work he and his colleagues had already done with Brian Hook, who led the negotiations on behalf of the U.S. government.

Trump, ignorant and confused, replied, "Who is Brian Hook?"

Two years later, Hook is the guy who's quitting.

The Trump administration's special envoy for Iran, political appointee Brian Hook, is stepping down from his post, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Wednesday. Hook has been the point person for the State Department's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, a key foreign policy initiative that saw the U.S. withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the reimpose crippling economic sanctions.

Hook, who's clearly had a troubled tenure in the Trump administration, leaves at a time when the failure of the president's policy is obvious.

The White House's "maximum pressure" campaign was designed to force Iran to the negotiating table and force Tehran to curtail its nuclear ambitions. What's actually happened, of course, is that Iran has accelerated its nuclear program -- the program was on indefinite hold before Trump got to work -- and abandoned any interest in negotiating with the United States.

The dangers to the region and U.S. national security interests are vastly more serious than before the White House rejected an international agreement that was working exactly as intended.

Hook, who'd ostensibly help lead possible nuclear negotiations with Tehran, now seems to realize those talks will not happen, at least not anytime soon. Since there's no point in waiting for a failed strategy to magically produce results, he's headed for exits.

And while Hook's departure is a stark reminder of Trump's avoidable fiasco, making this story just a little worse is the fact that Hook will be succeeded by Elliott Abrams, who's currently serving as the administration's special representative for Venezuela.

If Abrams' name sounds at all familiar, there's a good reason for that: he's perhaps best known for lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal. Abrams was also a prominent figure in the Project for a New American Century, a neocon initiative that was left thoroughly discredited by the failed Bush/Cheney war in Iraq.

Trump's policy toward Iran has already been exposed as one of his most spectacular failures, but if it can get worse, Abrams is just the man to make that happen.