America's credibility on the world stage suffered a severe blow Tuesday when President Trump pulled out of the 3-year-old Iran nuclear deal, signaling that the United States' word lasts only as long as its next presidential election.
America is now in violation of an accord it negotiated in good faith along with China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, and with which Iran has complied since the deal was ratified.
Trump's rationale for withdrawing the United States and reinstating economic sanctions — that the "horrible, one-sided deal" allowed Iran "to continue enriching uranium and, over time, reach the brink of a nuclear breakout" — is unfounded.
His own intelligence chiefs say Tehran has honored an agreement that extended Iran's "breakout" time for building a nuclear weapon from three months to a year. The deal, which eased sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program, was working.
But Trump never liked the agreement, saying so loudly during his election campaign and since. For him, that was enough reason for ignoring the pleas of European allies and disrupting unusually intrusive nuclear inspections.
Tuesday's announcement followed Trump's ill-considered decisions last year to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord and a Trans-Pacific Partnership on trade. Imagine if average Americans conducted their personal lives as capriciously as the president conducts foreign policy. It's as though you bought a car, decided after the fact that you didn't like the color or the gas mileage, tore up the sales agreement, and walked away from the remaining payments. Would anyone trust selling you another vehicle?
Trump has a lot of "cars" yet to buy, not the least of which is a new nuclear deal with North Korea. In fact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was winging his way there even as Trump was pulling out of the Iran agreement. It's hard to see why dictator Kim Jong Un would agree to a similar accord with such an unreliable negotiating partner.
To the extent that they have any sort of Plan B, Trump and his new hard-line counselors — Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton — seem to believe that reimposing sanctions will isolate Tehran, forcing it to negotiate improvements in the nuclear deal and extend, for example, sunset clauses on developing and producing new centrifuges (2025) or stockpiling and enriching uranium (2030).
But it took years of rigorous diplomacy by the Bush and Obama administrations to persuade dozens of countries to participate in a broad sanctions program that finally forced Tehran to the table. That kind of negotiation now would be even harder.
Major importers of Iranian oil such as China, India, South Korea, Japan and European countries have little incentive to renegotiate. Nor does Russia, which hopes to invest billions in Iran's oil and gas industry. America could threaten secondary sanctions against such countries and their corporations, but that would severely exacerbate tensions with European allies.
By pulling out of the agreement, Trump effectively shreds a solution that nations across the world were counting on to prevent a nasty, threatening regime from acquiring the most terrible weapon. In so doing, his actions also shred America's reputation as a reliable partner.