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Trump's Turn on Iran Turns Off America's Allies

New sanctions on Iran will sour America's relationship with Europe.

Yang Chenglin Xinhua News Agency/NewscomYang Chenglin Xinhua News Agency/Newscom

President Donald Trump's decision to ditch the Iranian nuclear deal was supposed to terrify Tehran into surrendering its nuclear program and cleaning up its behavior around the region. Instead the administration's renewed pressure campaign has provoked no change in Iran's activities—and now threatens to sour America's relationship with its European allies.

In early May, Trump terminated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and reimposed the sanctions suspended under the agreement. This was followed last week by additional sanctions on the Iranian central bank, with the U.S. officially designating its governor a terrorist for allegedly funneling millions to the militant group Hezbollah.

In a speech this morning at the Heritage Foundation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued yet more demands for Tehran, including the complete cessation of its nuclear program, an end to its funding for armed groups across the Middle East, the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria, and a halt to its development of ballistic missiles.

Should Iran agree, Pompeo promised to lift all sanctions and restore full diplomatic and commercial ties with the country. Failure to comply would mean U.S.-enforced economic isolation.

"This sting of sanctions will be painful if the regime does not change its course," Pompeo promised. "These will end up being the strongest sanctions in history when they are complete."

Foreign policy scholars were quick to note how unrealistic Pompeo's demands were.

"The demands would require that the Iranian leopard not just change its spots but transform itself into a lamb," writes Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council. Emma Ashford of the Cato Institute agrees: "It is basically asking Iran to become Belgium or Switzerland," she tells Reason.

The idea that sanctions will prompt Iran to cease its nuclear program or cut support for long-time regional allies—both of which it considers vital to its national interest—shows a lack of seriousness from the Trump administation, argues Ashford.

Pompeo's speech "did really show that there is no new strategy on the horizon," she says. Yet while a stepped-up pressure campaign is unlikely to force Iran to change its behavior, Ashford adds, it will almost certainly strain relationship with our European allies.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom were all party to the JCPOA. All three lobbied Trump hard to stay in the deal, and all have expressed a hope to keep the deal alive even without the U.S. on board.

European companies were quick to take advantage of the lessened sanctions ushered in by the JCPOA. The Telegraph, a British paper, reports that the European Union doubled its exports to Iran after the nuclear deal went into effect, exporting roughly $12.7 billion to the country in 2017. After China, Europe is Iran's biggest export market.

By reimposing sanctions and promising new ones, the U.S. will put itself in position of having to police and penalize European companies that, while complying with their own countries' rules, will inevitably run afoul of future restrictions. Pompeo acknowledged this in his remarks, saying "we understand that our reimposition of sanctions and the coming pressure campaign will pose financial and economic difficulties to our friends." He said that the U.S. would be sending teams of specialists abroad to explain the implications of the sanctions "and to listen."

Rather than getting on board with the Trump administration's plans, European leaders have been looking for ways to skirt the new sanctions. E.U. Commission President Jean-Claude Junker has floated the idea of routing Iranian-bound investments and payments for Iranian oil through European government banks to avoid America's restrictions.

The E.U. is also dusting off its old "blocking statute"—first used to avoid America's Cuba sanctions—which would make it illegal for European companies already doing businesses with Iran to comply with American sanctions and would compensate firms affected by the penalties.

In short: Rather than bringing around an American foe, Trump's exit from the JCPOA is merely souring relations with some of America's staunchest allies—while keeping us embroiled in a region that Trump himself has expressed a desire to leave.

Photo Credit: Yang Chenglin Xinhua News Agency/Newscom

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  • El Oso||

    I am sorry: Iran has an active nuclear program?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    I'm told Europe already hates Trump so what difference does it make.

    If a pallet of non-traceable cash isn't good enough for Iran, what is?

  • esteve7||

    LOL, good move by Trump. As opposed to giving literally pallets of cash to Iran so they can fund terrorism like Obama did....

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    What time did this meeting of Libertarians For Old-Timey Right-Wing Belligerence begin?

    Can anyone identify a genuine libertarian website for those who don't like their libertarianism wrapped in Republican authoritarianism?

  • Nardz||

    Can anyone identify a genuine idea ever expressed by Rev progland?

  • Sevo||

    "Can anyone identify a genuine idea ever expressed by Rev progland?"

    Sort of an 'idea', if you squint:
    He hates anyone who doesn't live in a blue city.

  • Rev. Arthur Ꮮ. Kirkland||

    Can anyone identify a genuine libertarian website for those who don't like their libertarianism wrapped in Republican authoritarianism?

    I don't know, would you actually depart for there if someone did?

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Welcome back, Racist Authoritarian Mini-Me.

  • El Oso||

    When did this become a comment board for Breitbart?

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Years ago.

    Conservatives are stupid and the Peanut Gallery here is conservative.

  • Sevo||

    "When did this become a comment board for Breitbart?"
    Were you looking for Huffpo?

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Maybe there is a level of racist, authoritarian, dopey scum that even Breitbart bans?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Tehran into surrendering its nuclear program and cleaning up its behavior around the region. Instead the administration's renewed pressure campaign has provoked no change in Iran's activities

    I was told that Iran had already cleaned up its behavior because of Obama's expert international foreign policy gamesmanship. Now you're telling me their behavior was in a state of needing cleaning up before he unilaterally backed out of a dealt that was unilaterally backed into?

  • Pro Libertate||

    I can't figure why Obama didn't at least hold back funds until they demonstrated--even faked--good behavior for an extended period. The Europeans just want cheaper, non-Russian oil alternatives, so of course they don't care. They fucked up the Middle East in the first place, at least in modern times, and they'll run to us if things get too rough.

  • Jerryskids||

    The Middle East - fucked up too much or not fucked up enough?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Fucked up to perfection.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    They fucked up the Middle East

    Your idiocy is awesome.

  • Sevo||

    Far exceeded by your stupidity.

  • Nardz||

    Apparently pb has never heard of Sykes or Picot

  • Pro Libertate||

    Look, we're either World Cop or we're not. If we're not, we should pull out of the Middle East and, for that matter, South Korea. Among other places.

    If we are, then we have to deal with threats to stability like Iran.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Why can't we be World Cop-fluid?

  • Pro Libertate||

    We could be in superposition between World Cop and Not World Cop.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Or World Kafka.

  • El Oso||

    Maybe we should first look to threats to stability like ourselves....yeah, we really stabilized Iraq all right....

  • Pro Libertate||

    No argument from me.

  • Agammamon||

    Interesting paradox - in order to 'stabilize' the world, we have to be World Cop. But, by being World Cop, we destabilize the world.

  • Pro Libertate||

    In some real ways, we're the only option. As screwed up as we are, the rest of the planet is worse. But we're working hard to lower what standards we have left. As the cop or not.

  • Sevo||

    "yeah, we really stabilized Iraq all right."

    As someone who opposed the war, and assumed it would come to no good end, I checked a link by one of the supporters several weeks ago:
    "Fifteen years after America's invasion, Iraq is doing well"
    https://www.economist.com/leaders/
    2018/03/28/fifteen-years-after-
    americas-invasion-iraq-is-doing-well

    So, much as I'd prefer the US stay the hell out of the Mid East, I stand corrected here. And you should, too.

  • SIV||

    "America's relationship with Europe" is at stake?

    Remember, Trump won the GOP primary by, in part,suggesting he might WITHDRAW FROM NATO

    MAGA

  • Libertymike||

    Hmm, he hasn't withdrawn from NATO.

    He has bombed Syria after being exhorted to do so by lots of Zionists, including his biggest financial backers.

    He has move the US embassy to Jerusalem after being urged to do so by lots of Zionists.

    He has not done anything to eliminate aid to Israel.

    He has not done anything to withdraw troops from Korea.

    Same old, same old.

  • Nardz||

    Always the Zionists, eh?

  • Azathoth!!||

    It's spelled ((( Zionists))).

  • CptNerd||

    I thought it was spelled "The Jooooos!", the world's "go-to villains" after the US (Republican) Government.

  • JoeBlow123||

    "Yet while a stepped-up pressure campaign is unlikely to force Iran to change its behavior, Ashford adds, it will almost certainly strain relationship with our European allies."

    We secure the oil shipments from the Middle East to Europe by spending blood, oil, and treasure to safeguard the Strait of Hormuz, Bab al-Mandeb, and Suez Canal. We protect Europe from the scary Ruskies. We keep the powder keg of the Middle East relatively in check. And what do we get for it? Bad allies. Further engulfment in the Middle East quagmire that has zero chance of settling down. The only thing that can be described as "staunch" by Europe is their continual unwillingness to defend their own interests.

    Europe can pay for its own defense, send their own boys to die so they can secure their own sea lanes.

  • benracer1||

    Do we even need to secure oil routes fot others anymore? With domestic production increasing with new technology, perhaps we should transition away from sea lanes maintainers.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Perhaps you didn't notice that Iran threatened to reveal which world leaders had been bribed to support Obama's deal, and what the amounts were, if Europe went along with the renewed sanctions?

    We didn't so much "lose" allies, as clarify who was only pretending they were an ally.

  • Pro Libertate||

    No, they are allies. The best analogy I have is that Europe is our overbearing hippie parents who still live in a commune and behave irresponsibly, while we're the responsible kid who graduated, got a great job, and has to bail them out. They're assholes, but they are family. Doesn't mean we have to listen to their nonsense.

  • Sevo||

    That's not bad. Not sure I'm stealing it, but not bad.

  • Nardz||

    Progs still think Europe's the cool clique.
    Europe ain't the cool clique no more.
    Progs, like the dorky but untalented kids, don't realize that high school is over.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    "President Donald Trump's decision to ditch the Iranian nuclear deal was supposed to terrify Tehran into surrendering its nuclear program and cleaning up its behavior around the region. Instead the administration's renewed pressure campaign has provoked no change in Iran's activities—and now threatens to sour America's relationship with its European allies."

    Look, I'll admit I don't know shit about shit, but didn't Trump 'pull out' of the deal about 5 minutes ago? Can people chill out a bit?

  • SIV||

    Their only concern is that TRUMP IS UNDOING OBAMA'S LEGACY.

  • Frank White||

    And where is this 2,000 mile wide, 50 foot high concrete and steel reinforced wall we were promised? Why didn't Trump snap his fingers and make it appear already? DRUMPH BTFO!

  • Azathoth!!||

    Long 2000 mile long wall.

    A 2000 mile wide wall would cover most of the southern part of the country

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    You just made Rev. Arthur Ꮮ. Kirkland smile

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    So the US demands for Iran are 'the complete cessation of its nuclear program, an end to its funding of armed groups across the Middle East, the withdraw of Iranian forces from Syria, and a halt to its development of ballistic missiles'.

    All of which are things the United States has done and continues to do.

    Trying to impose different rules for others and yourself is always going to result in hostility.

  • damikesc||

    Iran can always leave the NPT.

    They have to abide by the terms they agreed to.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I do not accept the assertion that sanctioning Iran will necessarily alienate our allies, but just for the sake of argument . . .

    What good is having a security relationship with the Europeans if we can't depend on them to do the easy things against a security threat like Iran?

    Sanctioning the Iranians is practically required by the NPT, to which our allies are also signatories. That Obama let the Europeans off the hook was also disgraceful.

    What are our European allies going to do if we alienate them--refuse to spend their required amount on NATO? Withdraw from NATO? They're practically welfare cases as far as security is concerned already.

    Or maybe they'd like to face Russian expansionism without the United States--after they've alienated Poland and Hungary over immigration?

    The continental Europeans will whine about being herded like cats, but as long as we're paying the bills, they'll eventually do as they're told on sanctions. Try to keep things in proportion.

  • mtrueman||

    "practically required by the NPT"

    What he means of course is 'not required by the NPT.'

  • Ken Shultz||

    Actually, the Obama deal carved out an (unconstitutional) exception to the NPT for Iran.

    They have forgone their right to enrich their own uranium according to the NPT. Violating the NPT has consequences according to the NPT. If Iran wishes to avoid those consequences, then they need to give up all claims to enriching their own uranium and they need to comply with verification safeguards--as required by the NPT.

    How much pressure we put on the Iranians for refusing to comply with the NPT is up for debate, but whether there are consequences for violating the NPT is not.

  • mtrueman||

    "but whether there are consequences for violating the NPT is not"

    Not necessarily. Successive administrations did nothing while North Korea withdrew from the treaty and went on to develop its own missile and nuclear technology. I don't think American resolve has grown any stronger since then.

  • damikesc||

    What would we do without the military might of continental Europe? Truly a ferocious defender of rights there.

    Well, for what it's worth, the only countries who likely would fight would pick us over Germany et al anyway.

  • HippieSauce||

    Since when did threatening sovereign nations with economic coercion and regime change become a libertarian position?

    Iran, don't build nukes and sell know-how on the black-market and we're good. Anything allowed by the NPT is fine.

    Saudi Arabia and Israel, if you have a problem with Iran's non-nuclear regional ambitions then go ahead and take care of it on your own time and on your own dime. And if you insist on killing civilians, we're not going to sell you arms to do it with.

  • Pro Libertate||

    We've placed ourselves in a bad position, no doubt. We shouldn't be there at all, but we are. Although most of this in the last century was a result of a mix of the carving up of the Middle East by Europe, the Cold War, and the economic desire for a stable Middle East, it would've been better for the U.S. to have stayed out.

  • HippieSauce||

    If getting out of the Middle East quagmire is desirable, then why is the US inclined to double-down on antipathy with Iran and pick a side on the Sunni/Shia conflict?

    Say what you want about Iran's bad behavior and their illiberal regime, but no objective observer can deny that they have legitimate security concerns with historical enemies on nearly every side. We've all seen what Saudi-funded Wahabbist-Sunni militant groups like to do to Shiites in Iraq. If liberal democracy breaks out anywhere, it'll more likely be in Iran than Saudi Arabia. So why have we gone all in?

    It's not the Iranians assassinating civilian scientists in their own countries. Even their fledgling nuclear program strikes me as a completely rational, if illegal, response to Bush era threats of regime change, which when done in Iraq was a far greater breach of international law. I don't get the anti-Iran hysteria.

  • Sevo||

    "...but no objective observer can deny that they have legitimate security concerns with historical enemies on nearly every side..."

    Well, I have a hard time getting upset that one set of 12th century fundies is threatening to kill the other set of 12th century fundies; as a US taxpayer, I want none of my money going to either set of dumbasses. And nukes are hardly weapons to poop at a neighbor several hundred miles to the west; in the northern hemisphere, the prevailing winds are from the west.
    So, outside if the bullshit you offered, die you have a point?

  • Flinch||

    Picking a side... I always wondered how it is that the Obama adminstration picked Iran to shower with cash, as I don't think there is a more right wing government on the planet. It should have turned his stomach, but maybe his anarchist streak got the better of him? And, what did the Muslim Brotherhood think of these goings on? They did after all get a front row seat to help craft internal US policy in a number of agencies. If anything ever needed a reset, US policies tampered with by MB should be at the top of the list. That puts a lens over all things middle east.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Since when did threatening sovereign nations with economic coercion and regime change become a libertarian position?"

    Economic coercion? You mean like the Boston Tea Party?

    What libertarian is calling for regime change as a precondition for removing sanctions against Iran?

  • Mark22||

    Trump's exit from the JCPOA is merely souring relations with some of America's staunchest allies—while keeping us embroiled in a region that Trump himself has expressed a desire to leave.

    Don't kid yourself: European elites hate the US and don't give a shit about Americans; there is no "relationship to sour". To the limited degree Europeans cooperate with the US, it's driven by naked self interest, and they will continue to do that because they have to.

  • Sevo||

    And they need gas money to fly their troops to former African colonies.
    They can't afford it, since they're spending all their money on the 'oh-so-cheap' socialized medical care.

  • Flinch||

    There's some truth to your point, but the glib facade will continue. The EU was created as a way to push back against the US economically it seems to me. There's a love/hate thing going on in our post ww2 world steered by the petrodollar, that's for sure.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    European elites can't stand the fact that there are counter-examples to their assertions which prove them to be middle age dinosaurs.

    I always take it as a good sign when the European elites put down some US person or initiative.

  • Flinch||

    Well, I hope nobody hyperventilates. Arms deals create backround problems that usually come out in the wash, so to speak. European nations have been selling things to the arab street for a long time, and Trump dealing with Irans gift received under Kerry's glazed eyes. We typically survive such intrigues and alliances continue. Case in point, did we bomb France because a US warship was hit by an exocet missile back during the Iran/Iraq conflict? No. Life will go on, and ally noise is not a big deal at all - just a few ruffled feathers over not getting their hands on our dollars.

  • Peryno||

    I'm not sure there's a whole lot of difference between keeping the deal or dumping it--Iran is going to create nuclear weapons either way and in the process set off an arms race in the region. Staying in may have delayed this inevitability for a bit.

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