President Trump made an “unfortunate mistake” by re-certifying the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday and he was pushed into a decision he didn’t want to make through the power of an entrenched government bureaucracy, according to former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
On Monday, after almost an hour of animated debate with his national security team, President Trump reluctantly declared that Iran is complying with the terms with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, hammered out by the Obama admnistration, Iran, and five other nations.
“It was an unfortunate decision for the administration to issue this certification,” said Bolton. “I think the president was blindsided by the bureaucracy.”
Bolton, who served in the State Department during the first term of the George W. Bush administration, says the foreign policy bureaucracy is a powerful force in Washington.
“It was the bureaucracy on autopilot from the Obama administration. If you don’t tell them to change direction, they just keep doing what they were doing before,” said Bolton.
But it’s not just Obama holdovers pushing the status quo. Reports confirm that Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford all pleaded with Trump to re-certify the agreement.
Bolton says the bureaucracy has a way of winning over new cabinet members to embrace existing policy.
“The bureaucracies have a way of capturing the appointees. Some of those (Trump officials) are still in the bureaucracy or never really left it. It’s an art form. People who know Washington, particularly who have watched the State Department seduce political appointees, especially Republicans and they make reasonable-sounding arguments that are simply justifications for continuing the prior policy,” said Bolton.
The Iran deal has now been re-certified twice in the first six months of the Trump administration. Each time, the official recognition of Iranian compliance has been accompanied by a Trump administration denunciation of Iran’s human rights record and sponsoring of terrorism.
Bolton says the disconnect is jarring.
“It’s a committee camel that came out and it reflects the confusion that happens when you don’t give the president options and when you don’t allow time for a full debate. Those mistakes will not be made again,” said Bolton, who firmly believes Trump will not certify the agreement again.
Those who applauded the decision to re-certify say abrogating the deal would create a great deal of chaos, particularly with our allies who were part of the negotiations with Iran.
Bolton doesn’t think that should be a deterrent from doing the right thing.
“If the allies are going to be upset by something, what you do is a vigorous diplomatic campaign to explain why we think the deal was a mistake, indeed why they made the same mistake we did, and why we’ve got to correct it before it’s too late,” said Bolton.
“The consequences of a bad deal are a regime of religious fanatics in Iran getting nuclear weapons,” said Bolton.
Bolton says the problems with the JCPOA are legion, starting with the painfully unclear language that he says Iran can manipulate and insist it is meeting its obligations.
“Many provisions of the deal are so badly worded, they’re so ambiguous, that a reasonable person could say, ‘The Iranians came right up to the line of their interpretation of the deal and they didn’t cross it so it’s hard to say it’s really a violation.’ That’s the argument,” said Bolton.
“That argument fails for several reasons. First off, the fact that the agreement is badly worded is one more reason to junk it. It shows just how poorly our negotiators, including Secretary of State John Kerry, did. It shows the leeway that it affords Iran. And it shows the way forward. They’re going to press the ambiguities right to the outer limit,” said Bolton.
And he expects Iran to eventually blow right past those limits.
“If they can hide what they’re doing, they’re going to press beyond the outer limits and make it impossible to enforce the deal strictly. That’s part of the problem. The deal is so bad that trying to enforce it strictly is like trying to nail jello to the wall,” said Bolton, while also nothing the deal offers no inspections of Iranian nuclear sites and has no binding provisions concerning ballistic missile development.
Bolton says the bottom line is that nothing has changed as a result of this agreement.
“Iran has never abandoned its policy to get deliverable nuclear weapons. It’s exploiting this deal. It’s made temporary, easily-reversible concessions. It’s cooperating with North Korea, which is getting ever closer to its own deliverable nuclear weapons capability,” said Bolton.
“We’re living in a delusion if we think this deal is slowing Iran down,” he added.
So what is the right U.S. posture? Bolton says the U.S. bring back economic sanctions immediately and be prepared to do whatever needs to be done to prevent Iran from being able to deploy nukes.
“To be realistic, if we don’t want Iran to have deliverable nuclear weapons, if that’s really what we believe, we and Israel have to look at a military option,” said Bolton.