Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says President Trump took a good first step in decertifying the Iran nuclear deal but he says the whole thing must be scrapped in order to remove the smokescreen that Iran is an honest player and end the financial windfall for the the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.
Bolton is also cheering the collapse of ISIS and commending President Trump for policy changes that expedited that outcome, however he is deeply concerned about the fate of the Kurds as Iranian-backed militias and even the official Iraqi forces look to force Kurdish fidelity to the regime in Baghdad.
And he is also urging Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to get on the same page quickly for the sake of American foreign policy.
On Thursday, Trump announced he was decertifying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, negotiated among the Obama administration, Iran, and five other nations in 2015. Decertifying the agreement does not kill it but gives Congress 60 days to act on it. If Congress cannot reach a consensus on how to move forward, Trump could then decide to abandon the deal.
Bolton has long called for a complete withdrawal from the JCPOA, but he is encouraged by Trump’s decision to declare Iran non-compliant.
“It’s certainly much better than recertifying that the deal is in America’s national interest. What he did is to at least serve notice that it’s not. Nobody should be under any illusions that we’re still in the Obama administration,” said Bolton.
But he says it is vital for Trump to kill the deal once and for all in the next couple of months.
“The reason that United States needs to withdraw entirely is to create a new reality, to strip away the camouflage that Iran is provided by this deal, where it gains resources from trade and investment deals from all over the world but basically continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program without adequate inspection or verification,” said Bolton.
And Bolton is confident that Trump will have the chance to kill it because he has no confidence in Congress.
“This basically gives Congress 60 days to see if they can come up with some kind of comprehensive strategy. I have no faith whatever that Congress will be able to do that.
“So at 60 days, it’ll be back to the president. I’m hoping then that having given the supporters of the deal and the people who think the deal can be improved time to play out their option and failing, that he’ll then take the next step and get out of the deal entirely,” said Bolton.
Bolton says “camouflage” of a compliant, responsible Iran is nonsense.
“The argument to stay in the deal is that somehow the deal is constraining them and I believe that it’s not. They gave up temporary, easily reversible concessions in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars of trade and investment and assets being unfrozen,” said Bolton.
Furthermore, Bolton says Iran’s supposed transparency is also a farce.
“Every time that the Iranians have made a disclosure about their nuclear program for the last 20 years, it’s only been after U.S. intelligence uncovered it or Iranian opposition groups made it public,” said Bolton.
He says Iran did have one brief moment of honesty that also reveals the futility of the JCPOA.
“Just about two months ago now, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said that if they made the decision themselves to withdraw from the deal, they could get back to pre-deal levels of uranium enrichment in five days.
“Now, you take everything the Iranian leadership says with a big grain of salt but in that case they happen to be right, and it’s an indication of just how minimal their concessions were,” said Bolton.
But if the JCPOA is not an effective nuclear deterrent for Iran, what would be? First, he says it’s time for the U.S. to see Iran and North Korea as part of the same nuclear threat instead of separate challenges. He says the following step is to make sure neither rogue actor has nukes.
“I know people don’t like to hear it but you can’t leave the military option off the table because if you believe, as Trump said in his UN speech just about a months ago, that only way forward with North Korea is denuclearization, and I think the same is true with Iran, that means we can’t leave the current scenario with them still in possession of nuclear weapons.
“Otherwise, they’re available to extort and blackmail the United States as far as the eye can see,” said Bolton.
In neighboring Iraq, the news is better at least for the moment. On Tuesday, U.S.-backed militias said they had routed ISIS in its home base of Raqqa, Syria. U.S. officials indicated there is still work to do but that the vast majority of Raqqa had fallen.
Bolton says the speed of military success against ISIS is a big change from the previous administration.
“The president is right to say that he significantly speeded up the end of the ISIS caliphate. I think we are at the point where there may still be resistance here and there, but functionally the caliphate is over,” he said, while being quick to point out many ISIS figures fled to other hostile nations, so the ISIS threat itself lives on.
However, Bolton is worried that the Iraqi forces and the Shia militias backed by the U.S. and Iran are now taking aim at the Kurdish forces in the north, already wresting control of Kirkuk away from the Kurds who saved the city from ISIS.
Bolton says the Iraqis and militias are now moving on the Kurdish capital of Irbil and they’re doing it with American weapons. He says the Trump administration ought to respond in two ways, help the Kurds now and depose the Iranian government in the long term.
“The safety of the United States depends upon the ayatollahs being overthrown. I’ve believed that ever since the Ayatollah Khomeini took over in 1979.
“In the near term, I think we need to provide the Kurds with the armor and the artillery that, ironically, we’ve provided the forces of the Baghdad Iraqi government and the Shia militias. The Kurds are now being attacked with American weapons,” said Bolton, noting the Kurds have not been given such weapons.
Finally, Bolton says only President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson know the true state of their relationship, but he says it is vital that they get on the same page fast as these two men are at the center of executing American foreign policy.
“It’s not something you can let drift on and paralyze our decision making. It’s just too important of a combination not to have both ends of it working effectively,” said Bolton.
Bolton has some criticism of Trump on the personnel front. Unlike Trump, he believes it is vital for Trump to nominate good people to fill a myriad of vacancies at the assistant and deputy level in the State Department. He says Trump can’t bring about the change in bureaucracy and policy he’s promised without putting the right people in critical positions.
“The bureaucracy is like a big aircraft carrier. The way it was sailing when the president took office on January 20th is the direction it’s going to sail in until somebody says to turn it around. If you don’t have people around, your ability to turn it around is greatly reduced. I think that harms the president, ultimately,” said Bolton.