In foreign policy circles, the policy was known as the "maximum pressure" campaign. Donald Trump and his team abandoned the international nuclear agreement with Iran, despite the fact that it was working exactly as intended, with the intention of moving towards a policy that would be "tougher" and even more effective.
As Colin Kahl, an Obama administration veteran, recently explained, "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."
With this in mind, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the right question during an interview yesterday:
STEPHANOPOULOS: [Before the current strategy] was put in place, the Iranians were abiding by the nuclear agreement. We've seen a spate of attacks in recent days and weeks in response to the maximum pressure. Can you say your strategy is actually working?POMPEO: Absolutely, George.
Perhaps Pompeo has come up with his own strange definition of "working."
Geopolitical debates over nuclear policy can be complex, but the dynamic in this instance is surprisingly straightforward. Before Trump abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- the formal name for the Iran nuclear deal -- Iran's nuclear weapons program was on indefinite hold. In the months that followed the Republican's decision, officials in Tehran took incremental steps in a dangerous direction, starting up advanced centrifuges, for example, increasing the speed with which Iran can produce enriched uranium.
In the wake of Trump's airstrike killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran has gone even further, announcing over the weekend that it's now ending its commitment to limit enrichment of uranium.
Or put another way, the American president, for reasons he's struggled to explain, has taken a series of unnecessary steps that have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program that had been kept in check.
The New York Times reported overnight that the White House's entire strategy has produced the opposite of the intended results.
When President Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, he justified his unilateral action by saying the accord was flawed, in part because the major restrictions on Iran ended after 15 years, when Tehran would be free to produce as much nuclear fuel as it wanted.But now, instead of buckling to American pressure, Iran declared on Sunday that those restrictions are over -- a decade ahead of schedule. Mr. Trump's gambit has effectively backfired.Iran's announcement essentially sounded the death knell of the 2015 nuclear agreement. And it largely re-creates conditions that led Israel and the United States to consider destroying Iran's facilities a decade ago, again bringing them closer to the potential of open conflict with Tehran that was avoided by the accord.
It's no secret that Trump has stumbled badly on a variety of foreign policy fronts, but this is clearly among the most spectacular of the Republican's failures. Pompeo may expect people to believe the "maximum pressure" campaign is "absolutely" working, but reality points in a very different direction.
The world will be living with the consequences of Trump's failed judgment for many years to come.