Just last week, the Trump Administration formally designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. This is the first time that the U.S. government has made that designation on a part of a foreign government, therefore setting the stage for potential escalation with Iran. After all, the president already set us on the path to war by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement.
Before the negotiations began, Iran was dangerously close to a nuclear weapon. U.S. allies were seriously considering military strikes that could have ignited a full-scale war in the Middle East. Instead, the Obama Administration brought together an international coalition to impose crushing sanctions on Iran, jump-starting negotiations that ultimately succeeded in shutting down Iran’s dangerous nuclear activities, without a shot fired.
We know the deal is working because Iran submitted to intrusive, around the clock monitoring of its sensitive nuclear facilities—the most comprehensive verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated. Trump’s violation of the deal puts all this at risk. Iran is complying for now—U.S. and Israeli intel assessments agree on this point, as do the international nuclear inspectors on the ground in Iran—but without the economic incentives they were promised, it seems only a matter of time before they resume their dangerous program.
The Trump Administration claims the goal of their Iran strategy is a better, more comprehensive deal with Iran. That’s simply not credible.
For one, Trump Administration officials are lying about Iran’s nuclear activities. There are troubling echoes of Iraq WMDs in their claims about Iran’s nuclear activities. John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Advisor, served as the top State Department Arms Control official for President George W. Bush and promoted the false claims that Iraq had WMDs to justify the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq.
Bolton is now claiming that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. There is no evidence to support his claims. In fact, U.S. intelligence assessments directly contradict his assertion. Both CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats recently testified before Congress that Iran is complying with the restrictions of the nuclear deal.
But Bolton may be less interested in the truth about Iran’s nuclear program and more interested in starting an Iran war. Bolton is well-known for advocating military action against Iran. He’s made no secret of these views, penning an infamous op-ed, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” Bolton also recently requested that the Pentagon prepare options for military strikes on Iran.
Bolton’s views are not the only indication that the administration’s goal is a military confrontation. Shortly after the U.S. withdrawal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out 12 demands that Iran must meet before the United States will negotiate. But these demands are so extreme that they are clearly not a serious opening offer for negotiations. Indeed, if Iran complied, there would be no need for negotiations because the demands boil down to Iran completely eliminating all its dangerous behavior, before the Trump administration will negotiate.
In a recent interview, Secretary Pompeo admitted, “their behavior has not changed materially.” In other words, the strategy isn’t working. It’s not changing Iran’s behavior or getting them back to the negotiating table. But the administration isn’t changing course. So, if diplomacy isn’t the goal, what are they hoping to achieve?
All signs point to this: The Trump Administration isn’t looking to solve the Iranian threat through diplomacy. They’re looking to provoke Iran into restarting its nuclear program or take other extreme steps that could spark a military conflict.
This isn’t just foolish. It’s dangerous and irresponsible. A war with Iran, a country five times the size of Iraq, would take years, cost millions of dollars. And worst, it will cost American lives. Not to defend our country or protect U.S. allies, but because the Trump Administration is afraid of diplomacy.
Diplomacy is one of our greatest strengths. American trustworthiness, our commitment to our allies, our economic power—all of these are assets that enable us to achieve our goals through diplomacy without putting American lives at risk.
By violating our commitment to an international diplomatic agreement, Trump is setting us up for an impossible choice: an Iranian bomb or another unnecessary war in the Middle East.
It’s not too late to prevent an Iranian bomb through diplomacy. Congress, and presidential candidates in particular, can defuse the crisis by reinforcing that Americans support diplomacy and will resort to military action only as the last possible option.
The nuclear deal is working to block Iran’s paths to the bomb and prevent war. It’s good for our security and the security of our allies.
Barbi S. Appelquist is an attorney and a political partner of Truman National Security Project. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from Pepperdine University and a law degree from the University of California Hastings College of Law, and she served as the Co-Director of the California Veterans and Military Families for the 2016 Hillary Clinton Campaign for President.