President Donald Trump speaks as John Kelly, White House chief of staff, to his left, listens during a briefing with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Thursday. Photo by Andrew Harrer/UPI | License Photo
BUCHAREST, Romania, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump is planning to decertify Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Washington Post reported. If fully honored, that agreement would prevent Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons. However, the specifics of what the United States would or and would not do, especially regarding the re-imposition of sanctions, will have to await the president's planned speech to the nation.
Critics of the agreement argue that Iranian ballistic missile programs and Tehran's "meddling" in the region are unacceptable and should have been part of the JCPOA. Further, critics urged by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predict that the agreement gives Iran a path to nuclearization by delaying and not preventing that result. It is too bad these critics either never read the JCPOA or refuse to acknowledge its contents.
The fact is that this agreement's sole purpose was to prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons. Restraining Iran's other weapons programs and engagement in the region was not and could not be accomplished by this or any agreement until some form of improved relations were re-established between Washington and Tehran. And it was clear in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the real security experts in the administration -- Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford -- believed that the United States should abide by the JCPOA.
It is true that the president is commander-in-chief. It is also true that prior to taking office, Trump had absolutely no experience in national security issues. And it appears true that the president still has no understanding of what he is doing regarding national security and foreign policy.
The litany of errors, miscalculations and other blunders made by the White House is uniquely long, even given that the first year of any new administration is always marked by such shortcomings. So far, the president has not presided over catastrophes such as the Bay of Pigs when a naïve young John Kennedy authorized the failed invasion of Cuba in April 1961, or when George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Still, the damage inflicted on the nation's security by this administration is serious and is only likely to get worse.
What drove Trump to this decision probably never will be known. Given his past performance, this was likely instinctive and reactive and not thoughtful or well-reasoned despite the caliber of his key national security team, including Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. And what the president hoped to achieve by decertification is mind-boggling.
North Korea is far from resolved. Kim Jong Un has nuclear and possibly thermonuclear weapons and long-range missiles. At some point, the former will be mated to the latter. Then "rocket man" will have the ability to destroy several cities even in the United States. Given that Kim will never abandon these weapons voluntarily, the last thing the United State needs to do is to provide Iran with an excuse to become a nuclear weapons state.
The most likely consequence is that sanctions will not be re-imposed and decertification will be a warning to Iran. Hence, this brouhaha could be seen as much ado about very little. Unfortunately, what may play well to the president's base and the right wing of the Republican Party will be taken as even more evidence abroad that the Trump administration cannot be trusted to honor its commitments, including those that are in the nation's best interest.
It is no accident that Saudi King Salman just visited Moscow in a flirtation with President Vladimir Putin even though Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson performed the sword dance in Riyadh earlier this year. Nor did Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan journey to Tehran on a holiday. These and other leaders are well aware of Trump's shortcomings and will exploit them. This is especially true in Europe where many Europeans have grave doubts that in a crisis Trump would standby NATO's Article 5, meaning an attack against one is considered an attack against all.
In considering what to do about the JCPOA and paranoia about Iran, here is a simple question to answer. Given one choice, would you live in Iran or in Saudi Arabia? And if you were a woman, how would you answer?
Iran is certainly no friend. But an Iran bound by the JCPOA is infinitely better than decertification that panders to a small minority of Americans and inflicts further damage to the nation's security.
Harlan Ullman has served on the Senior Advisory Group for Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2004-16) and is a senior adviser at Washington, D.C.'s Atlantic Council, chairman of two private companies and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval person, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led over 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift Boat skipper. His next book, "Anatomy of Failure: Why America has Lost Every War it Starts," will be published in the fall. Follow him on Twitter @harlankullman.