Sen. Cotton: Dump iran nuclear deal, if the mullahs don’t bend, US should bomb, bomb, bomb
As widely reported this week and analyzed here, Pr*sident Trump appears determined to decertify the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement next week. That deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—curtails Tehran’s nuclear development program in exchange for lifting sanctions.
Congress requires the executive branch to review and certify every 90 days that Iran is complying with the agreement, and Trump has signed off on recertification twice this year. But he told his aides and advisers in July that he does not want to do so again. The deadline for completing the next certification review is October 15.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects Iran’s nuclear facilities, says Tehran is complying with the agreement. But, echoing other critics, Trump says it’s not complying with the agreement’s spirit. He cites Iran’s ballistic missile tests and the longstanding U.S. government view that Tehran is the world’s leader in state-sponsored terrorism. Neither of these issues were part of the negotiations.
Decertification would certainly make congressional hawks happy, including a number of Democrats, such as the four Democratic senators who voted against the agreement in 2015.
Probably the most hawkish foe of the agreement is Sen. Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican. In 2015, he got 46 other Republican senators to sign a letter to Tehran’s leaders warning them that the next U.S. president could overturn the agreement. That was before scarcely anyone imagined Donald Trump would be the guy in the White House to do that.
Cotton now says that if the agreement is decertified and Tehran refuses to renegotiate and returns its nuclear program to where it was before the agreement was signed, the U.S. can demolish Iran’s nuclear infrastructure: “And if they choose to rebuild it, we could destroy it again, until they get the picture.”
But there are foes to abandoning the agreement on Trump’s own team. For instance, Secretary of Defense James Mattis thinks it’s in the U.S. interest to stick with it. So does Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chief of the joint chiefs of staff. That does not mean they think the agreement cannot be made stronger, however.
If Trump does decertify, it will give Congress 60 days to review his decision and take whatever action it deems appropriate. One obvious move would be to reimpose the economic sanctions that analysts credit with having brought Iran to the table for the 20 months of negotiations that produced the nuclear agreement in the first place.
But if the Senate does resurrect sanctions, it’s almost certain Iran will withdraw from the agreement, viewing the United States as having breached the deal. In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement, but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.”
But even many of the U.S. hawks, including Cotton, don’t necessarily favor restoring the sanctions after decertification. He told the Council on Foreign Relations this week: “I don’t propose leaving the deal yet. I propose taking the steps necessary to obtain leverage to get a better deal.”
He and others want to use this putative leverage to restart negotiations to extend the existing sunset provisions in the nuclear agreement and add curtailment of ballistic missile tests and Iran’s alleged terrorism to it. They see decertification plus the threat of sanctions as motivating Tehran to, however reluctantly, knuckle under.
Tehran’s leaders certainly don’t want a return to the sanctions that for years crippled their economy because of fleeing foreign investment and reducing trade. There is, therefore, at least some possibility that Iran might renegotiate depending on the issues and the terms.
But the Iranian hard-liners who opposed the agreement from the get-go would no doubt be strengthened by such U.S. moves. They would be able to argue plausibly that whatever agreements are approved, the U.S. will prove untrustworthy. After all, they can say, by taking the actions needed to comply with the current agreement, Iran has already crippled elements of the nuclear program they have maintained is wholly peaceful in design.
Iran has allies in Europe who oppose decertification, not to mention sanctions, and they have IAEA’s inspections showing that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear agreement to back them up. The Washington Post reports:
European officials and business executives are quickly mobilizing a counter effort to the expected U.S. rebuff of the Iran nuclear accord, encouraging companies to invest in Iran while urging Congress to push back against White House moves that could hobble the deal.
The European stance — sketched out on the sidelines of an Iran-focused investment forum in Zurich this week — is an early signal of the possible transatlantic rifts ahead as America’s European partners show no sign of following the White House call to renegotiate the landmark pact with Tehran.
“The nuclear deal is working and delivering and the world would be less stable without it,” Helga Schmid, the secretary general of the European’s foreign policy service, said in a speech at the Europe-Iran Forum.
Like Iran, if the United States decertifies based on matters included in the agreement, the Europeans surely would wonder whether Washington can be trusted in future negotiations, and not just those having to do with Iran.
- More: Trump’s reckless, dishonest, myopic blustering on Iran nuclear agreement weakens U.S. national security
Meanwhile, in a lengthy release posted on his website, the bombastic, warmongering Sen. Cotton excoriated the Obama administration for having supposedly been wimps in the negotiating the agreement that he says gave Iran a path to a nuclear weapon in the near future:
Along with various U.N. sanctions, these were the toughest sanctions Iran had ever faced and they helped to drive the regime to its knees. And one thing I learned in the Army is that when you have your opponent on his knees, you drive him to the ground and choke him out. But President Obama extended the ayatollahs a hand and helped them up.
The world needs to know we’re serious, we’re willing to walk away, and we’re willing to re-impose sanctions—and a lot more than that. […]
Which leads to a final objection: there’s no military option against Iran. Those who say this seem to believe we have only two choices: capitulation under the deal or years-long occupation after forcible regime change. Of course that’s not the case. […]
And while the credible threat of military action may be all that’s needed to change the regime’s behavior, let there be no doubt about this point: if forced to take action, the United States has the ability to totally destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. And if they choose to rebuild it, we could destroy it again, until they get the picture.
Cotton fails to mention what experts have said for years in this regard. Even a very large, sustained, conventional assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities would not guarantee their complete destruction. Which, of course, is one reason the idea of again building mini-nukes to smash deep underground bunkers is under consideration by the Trump regime. The blowback from conventional attacks, much less a nuclear one, would be immense.
(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)