Trump, Netanyahu, and the Iran Deal
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu have much in common and have some similar policy ideas but it is not clear if they arrive at the end with the same result. Trump has said from early in his campaign that he opposes the Iran Agreement. There are legitimate but debatable reasons for wanting to see the U.S. withdraw from the deal. Unfortunately, as was the case with the ACA “repeal and replace” strategy, it is not at all clear if Trump seeks to scrub the deal due to a rational strategic plan or because his Administration’s operative mantra is to reject and dismantle as many of Obama’s policies as possible.
To date, Trump has yet to articulate a set of coherent foreign policy objectives other than his determination that any policy must be driven by his overall goal to “Make America Great Again” and his foreign policy call of “America First”. It is unclear what this means on a global level, but it certainly suggests a continued move to neo-isolationism and trade protectionism.
With respect to certifying Iran’s compliance or not the reports did suggest that Trump’s advisers apparently were divided and the President’s decision is much less decisive than it might have been—in either direction. What his middling decision did accomplish was to upset U.S. allies while appearing more threating in words than in actions vis-à-vis Iran. It was more hostile as well in tone than in deed and placed the burden on Congress to take the next step.
At the same time Trump’s decision gave America’s only friend which had opposed the deal, Israel’s Netanyahu Government, a sense that the U.S. was now supportive of Israel on its reading of the threat posed by Iran. The problem is that while they now appear to agree on Iran’s potential strategic threat, unlike the U.S., a nuclear Iran would pose an immediate existential threat to Israel; exactly as it did before the agreement was in place. Furthermore, for Israel there now was a heightened danger if Iran were to react negatively to a perceived shift in U.S. policy.
There are two additional issues to be considered. The decision reach by the Trump Administration could seriously backfire specifically in the Far East. It is unclear what positives Trump believes will transpire by not certifying Iran’s compliance with the deal. If the President had any desire to de-escalate the current tension between the U.S. and North Korea with regards to their nuclear program, this was certainly not the way to accomplish it.
As for Israel, being in agreement with the Trump Administration on the Iran decision, virtually isolates the Netanyahu Government from almost all of its European allies. There is no upside for Netanyahu except to placate his hawks at home. Once again Bibi is permitting selfish, internal political forces to drive critical foreign policy decisions. It is even questionable whether this time Bibi will get any significant mileage for his stance from his Jewish supporters in the States as well as from the Congress.