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‘De-certifying’ the Iran Deal May Be Trump’s Most Reckless Decision Yet

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 6:07pm

(Image: SS&SS / Flickr)

Despite heavy competition, Trump’s latest Iran move ranks near the top of the list of the most reckless actions of this ever-so-reckless presidency. The president announced recently that he was refusing to certify Iran’s compliance with the landmark nuclear agreement it reached with the U.S. and several other world powers during the Obama administration.

This dangerous move won’t scuttle the deal entirely — at least not yet — but it undermines the strength of the international agreement and ultimately increases the threat of war. While Trump has said he’s not pulling out of the deal just now, he’s threatening to do so if Congress doesn’t pass new sanctions .

With virtually every Iran expert on the planet in agreement that Tehran is keeping its end of the nuclear deal, it’s clear that Trump’s motives are purely political. But if anything that makes his decision only more dangerous.

Outright Lies

The Iran nuclear deal — officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — is widely recognized as one of President Obama’s most important diplomatic successes. And it’s working exactly as it was designed to do.

The UN nuclear inspection agency, the U.S. intelligence community, and every serious expert on Iran’s nuclear program from across the globe all agree that Iran is complying with the requirements of the deal. That means, among other things, that Iran’s supply of low enriched uranium is now about 1 percent of what it used to be, it has no highly enriched uranium, and its nuclear program is under tight international inspection.

Yet Trump scorned pleas from key U.S. allies, members of Congress from both parties, and his own top security advisers, all of whom urged him to maintain the deal.

In withdrawing from a deal that Iran was keeping in good faith, Trump abandoned any pretense of maintaining U.S. credibility as a reliable negotiating partner. Instead, he justified decertifying Iranian compliance with a combination of exaggerations, complaints about actions that have nothing to do with the actual terms of the deal, and outright lies.

In remarks announcing his action, Trump claimed that “the Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement — for example, they exceeded the 130 metric ton limit of heavy water.” As the Guardian pointed out, that statement was “misleading at best. On two occasions, Iran’s stockpile of heavy water flowed over the ceiling imposed by the deal, but the situation was quickly rectified and Iran’s reserve is now below the limit. Nor is heavy water a direct proliferation threat.”

He also tossed out the line, without a shred of evidence, that “many people believe Iran is dealing with North Korea.”

He lied about Iran getting “paid up front” when the deal was signed, “rather than at the end of the deal when they have shown they’ve played by the rules.” Trump implied this was a payout from the West to Iran, but didn’t mention this was Iran’s own money, long frozen by the United States and its allies. And in point of fact, those funds weren’t released until the UN nuclear inspectors had determined that Tehran was indeed complying with the rules.

Finally, Trump lied about conditions inside Iran, claiming that the deal resulted in sanctions being lifted “just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime.” Despite U.S. threats and crippling sanctions (which had far more impact on Iran’s civilian population than on the government), the Iranian regime was and remains very far from “total collapse.”

Trump also refused to acknowledge that Iran and the United States are actually fighting on the same side across the region. Washington and Tehran support the same governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. And both have deployed troops and planes to fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. (Of course, this isn’t particularly good news — both the Afghan and Iraqi governments are deeply corrupt, and the U.S. and Iran have each been responsible for war crimes in Syria — but it shows the hypocrisy in Trump’s deeply oppositional view of Iran.)

Furthermore, while they support different sides in the Syrian civil war, U.S. and Iranian military forces are often close together, and remain in constant communication to prevent any friendly fire attacks on each other. Indeed, while Trump announced new sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for their alleged support for terrorism, he was careful not to add the IRGC to Washington’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, because that would threaten U.S. soldiers fighting near IRGC troops in Syria.

Because Trump couldn’t point to any actual violations of the terms of JCPOA by Iran, he claimed instead that Tehran “is not living up to the spirit of the deal.” He condemned Iran’s missile developments, bemoaning the deal’s “failure” to deal with them. But of course, it wasn’t a deal about missile technology — it was a deal about nuclear enrichment. That was the only way to get all sides on board, and scuttling it when Iran’s in compliance will inevitably make it more difficult to strike a deal on missiles or anything else in the future.

Rogue State Behavior

Trump’s new Iran position doesn’t end the multi-party Iran deal; it doesn’t even pull the United States out of the deal or end U.S. obligations under the deal — yet.

Instead, it tosses the decision back to Congress. The JCPOA is a multi-lateral agreement, not a treaty, and so didn’t have to be ratified by the Senate. But to prevent political problems, Obama negotiated a separate deal with Congress, which requires the president to certify every 90 days that Iran is still in compliance with the deal.

If the president refuses to do so, as Trump just did, Congress then has 60 days to decide whether or not to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. That decision would indeed violate Washington’s obligations (which included ending nuclear sanctions), and Iran and the other signatories would rightly blame the U.S. for wrecking the deal.

Trump’s “America First” actions have seriously damaged Washington’s already-dubious standing in the world. This latest move goes further, gravely weakening international cooperation, concern for civilian populations, efforts towards non-proliferation and disarmament, respect for international law, and the credibility of the United Nations, which endorsed the deal.

It’s dangerous because it tells Iran, Washington’s negotiating partners, and the world that the United States isn’t committed to the deal it signed, and is looking for a way out. It’s dangerous because it tells North Korea that they may as well not bother negotiating with Washington, because the United States can’t be counted on to abide by its agreements.

It’s dangerous because there’s already strong anti-Iran and anti-JCPOA sentiment in Congress, as well as strong outside pressure (from Israel’s supporters, among others) on legislators to follow Trump’s reckless decision with an equally reckless move of their own. If Congress imposes new nuclear sanctions on Iran, that would threaten the real collapse of the deal — unless, as has happened before, the Iranian government shows more restraint and more political maturity than its U.S. counterpart.

Abandoning the nuclear deal shows utter disdain for our negotiating partners in China, France, Germany, Russia, and the UK, which together helped craft the deal, as well as for Iran itself. It also slaps the unanimous UN Security Council Resolution 2231 endorsing the deal, which reminded signatories that they were obligated under international law “to accept and carry out the Security Council’s decisions,” including by carrying out the “full implementation” of the JCPOA.

As Iran’s UN Ambassador Javad Zarif told CBS:

“You know, the United States is a permanent member of the Security Council. And if it’s not going to uphold a resolution, that not only it voted for but it sponsored, then the credibility of the institution that the United States considers to be very important would be at stake. Nobody else will trust any U.S. administration to engage in any long-term negotiation because the length of any commitment, the duration of any commitment from now on with any U.S. administration would be the remainder of the term of that president.”

Trump’s cascading recklessness in his Iran policy continues to put the United States, Iran, the Middle East, and indeed the world at great peril. His actions make the threat of war far more likely. And if Congress doesn’t fall into Trump’s trap, and instead rejects his demand to impose new nuclear sanctions, Trump will come face-to-face with his promise to cancel the agreement himself.

Such an act would indeed prove, to anyone not yet convinced, that the United States is a rogue state.

The post ‘De-certifying’ the Iran Deal May Be Trump’s Most Reckless Decision Yet appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

What Ireland Can Teach Europe

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 11:46am

Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland (Photo: amanderson2 / Flick)

The tiny Irish village of Ballingarry, in the heart of County Limerick, with its narrow streets and multiple churches, seems untouched by time and untroubled by the economic and political cross currents tearing away at the European Union (EU).

But Ireland can be a deceptive place, and these days nowhere is immune from what happens in Barcelona, Paris, and Berlin.

Burnout and “Bailout”

Ballingarry — the place my grandfather emigrated from 126 years ago — was a textile center before the 1845 potato famine starved to death or scattered its residents. Today it houses five pubs — “one for every 100 people,” notes my third cousin Caroline, who lives with her husband John next to an old Protestant church that’s been taken over by a tech company.

When the American and European economies crashed in 2008, Ireland was especially victimized.

Strong-armed into a “bailout” to save its banks and speculators, the Irish Republic is only beginning to emerge from almost a decade of tax hikes, layoffs, and austerity policies that impoverished a significant section of its population. The crisis also re-ignited the island’s major export: people, particularly its young. Between 2008 and 2016, an average of 30,000 people aged 15 to 24 left each year.

The Irish economy is growing again, but the country is still burdened by a massive debt, whose repayment drains capital from much needed investments in housing, education and infrastructure. But “debt” can be a deceptive word. It’s not the result of a spending spree, but the fallout from a huge real estate bubble pumped up by German, Dutch, and French banks in cahoots with local speculators and politicians, who turned the Irish economy into an enormous casino. From 1999 to 2007, Irish real estate prices jumped 500 percent.

People here have reason to be wary of official government press releases and Bank of Ireland predictions. The center-right government of former Prime Minister Enda Kenny crowed that the economy had grown an astounding 26 percent in 2015, but it turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of multinationals moving their intellectual property into Ireland to protect their profits. The forecast has since been labeled “Leprechaun economics.”

Trouble in the Neighborhood

Former U.S. Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill — whose ancestors hailed from County Donegal in Ireland’s northwest — once said that “all politics are local,” and that’s at least partly true here. The news outlets are full of a scandal about the Irish police, the Garda, cooking breathalyzer tests to arrest motorists, an upcoming abortion referendum, and a change of leadership in the left-wing Sinn Fein Party.

There’s also deep concern about the Brexit. Britain is Ireland’s number two trading partner — the U.S. is number one — and it’s not clear how London’s exit from the EU will affect that. There’s also the worrisome matter of the now open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, accompanied by fears that Brexit will undermine the Good Friday peace agreement between northern Catholics and Protestants.

But even the Irish have a hard time focusing on themselves these days, what with the German elections vaulting Nazis into the Bundestag and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s auto da-fe against the Catalans. Watching Spain’s Guardia Civil using truncheons on old people, whose only crime was trying to vote, felt disturbingly like the dark days when General Francisco Franco and his fascist Falange Party ran the country.

(Photo: SBA73 / Flickr)

There’s an interesting parallel between Catalonia and Ireland. Dublin is still awash with the 100th anniversary commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rebellion. At the time, the uprising was opposed by many of the Irish, but when the British authorities began executing the rising’s leaders, sentiment began to shift. In 1921, the British threw in the towel after 751 years.

It’s a lesson Rajoy should examine. Before he unleashed the Guardia Civil, polls showed the Catalans were deeply split on whether they wanted to break from Spain. That sentiment is liable to change rather dramatically in the coming weeks.

Watching Berlin

There are a number of cross currents in Europe these days, although many of them have a common source: an economic crisis in the European Union and austerity policies that have widened the inequality gap throughout the continent. The outcome of the German elections is a case in point.

Going into the September 25 vote, the media projected a cakewalk for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union alliance. What happened was more like a train wreck: The major parties, including the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP), dropped more than 100 seats in the Bundestag, and the openly racist, right-wing Alternative for Germany took almost 13 percent of the vote and 94 seats.

In some ways the German election was a replay of the British election last June, but without the Labor Party’s left-wing turn. Faced with the British Conservative Party’s numbingly vague platform of “experience” and “order,” voters went for Labor’s progressive program of taxing the rich, offering free tuition, and improving health care and education, and denied the Tories a majority.

Merkel ran an election not very much different from the British Conservatives, but with the exception of the small, left-wing Die Linke Party (which was itself divided), there weren’t a lot of alternatives for voters.

The SDP were part of Merkel’s grand coalition government, making it rather hard to critique the chancellor’s policies. The SDP leader, Martin Schulz, started off campaigning against economic inequality, but shifted to the middle after losing three state elections. In their one big debate, it was hard to distinguish Schulz from Merkel, and both avoided climate change, housing, the Brexit, and growing poverty.

There was certainly ammunition to go after the chancellor with. In Merkel’s 12 years in power, the chasm between rich and poor in the EU’s wealthiest state has widened. In spite of low unemployment, almost 16 percent of the population is near the poverty line. The problem is that many are working low-paying temp jobs.

Under normal circumstances that would be a powerful issue, except that it was Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the SDP who put policies in place that led to rise of temporary jobs and reduced wages. Suppressing wages boosted German exports but left a whole section of the population behind.

It’s a continent-wide problem.

According to the European Commission, almost one-third of Europe’s workforce is part of the “gig” economy, many working for under minimum wage and without benefits. The replacement of employees with “independent contractors” has allowed companies like Uber to amass enormous wealth, but the company’s drivers end up earning barely enough to get by.

In short, German voters didn’t trust the SDP and looked for alternatives. Given the hysteria around immigration, some choose the fascist Alternative for Germany. As odious as it is to have the inheritors of the Third Reich sitting in the Bundestag, it would be a mistake to think the party’s program was behind its success. The Alternative has nothing to offer but racism and reaction, and neither will do much to close the wealth gap in Germany.

The Collapsing “Centre”

Dublin has turned over a wing of its National Library to an exhibit of the great Irish poet and playwright, William Butler Yates, who is much quoted these days. A favorite seems to be some lines from “The Second Coming”: “Thing fall apart; the Centre cannot hold…the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

On one level that seems a pretty good description of the rise of Europe’s extreme right-wing parties, and the precipitous decline of center and center-left parties. It’s an attractive literary simile, but misleading.

After all, it was the “Centre” that introduced many of the neoliberal policies that wiped out industries, cut wages, and abandoned whole sections of the population. When French, British, German, Spanish, Italian, and Greek socialists embraced free trade and wide-open markets over strong unions and social democracy, is it any wonder that voters in those countries abandoned them?

When center-left parties returned to their roots, as they did in Britain and Portugal, voters rewarded them.

After being dismissed as a deluded leftist who would destroy the British Labor Party, suddenly Corbin is being talked of as a future prime minister. In the meantime the alliance of the Portuguese Socialist Party with two other left parties is rolling back many of the more onerous austerity policies inflicted on Lisbon by the EU, sparking economic growth and a drop in the jobless rate.

“Beware of the Risen People”

Syrian refugees (Photo: UNHCR Photo Unit / Flickr)

Visually, Ireland is a lovely country, though one needs to prepare for prodigious amounts of rain and intimidatingly narrow roads (having destroyed two tires in 24 hours I was banished to riding shotgun halfway through our trip).

But while the meadows sweeping down from dark mountains in Kerry look timeless to the tourists who pack the scenic Ring, they are not. Ireland’s modern landscape is a deception.

In 1845, the population of Kerry was 416 people per square mile, compared to 272 in England and Wales. Those sweeping meadows that the tourists ogle were crowded with cottages before three years of potato blight swept them all away, “Look at those great grass fields, empty for miles and miles away,” wrote the Bishop of Clonfert in 1886. “Every one of them contained once its little house, its potato ground, its patch of oats.”

It is ironic that Europe is so befuddled by the flood of immigrants pounding on its doors, or that Europeans somehow think the current crisis is unique. Between 1845 and 1848, 1.5 to 2 million Irish fled their famine-blackened land (while another million — likely far more — starved to death) in large part due to the same kind of economics Europe is currently trying to force on countries like Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Cyprus.

“God brought the blight, the English brought the famine,” is an old Irish saying, and it’s spot on. The Liberal Party government in London was deeply enamored with free trade and market economics, the 19th century version of neoliberalism, and they rigidly applied its strictures to Ireland. The result was the single worst disaster to strike a population in the 19th century. Between 1845 and 1851, Ireland lost between 20 and 25 percent of its people, although those figures were far higher in the country’s west.

Today, the migrants are from Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, fleeing wars that Europeans helped start and from which some make a pretty penny dealing arms. Others are from Africa, where a century of colonialism dismantled existing states, suppressed local industries, and throttled development. Now those chickens are coming home to roost.

Ireland is a small player in the scheme of things, but it has much to teach the world: courage, perseverance, and a sense of humor. When the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in 1921, the people of Galway pulled down a statue of Lord Dunkellen and tossed it into the sea, while a band played “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”

And Europe would do well to pay attention to some if its poets, like Patrick Pierce, who was executed at Kilmainham jail for his part in the Easter Rebellion: “I say to the masters of my people, beware. Beware of the risen people who shall take from ye that which you would not give.”

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com.

Trump Is Signaling an Unprecedented Right Turn on Foreign Policy

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 2:17pm

(Image: Shutterstock)

Every few years — sometimes four, sometimes eight — America’s political mood swings from one pole to another.

It’s a not-uncommon disorder for democracies. Voters get disgusted with one flavor of politics and opt for another. For better or worse, the United States doesn’t have a Baskin-Robbins democracy. So, the vacillations in Americans’ political taste can only pendulum between chocolate and vanilla.

It’s one thing for America to lurch from one end of the spectrum to the other on fiscal matters, the advisability of universal health care, or the economic impact of immigration.

On foreign policy, however, the shifts are not just mystifying to those outside U.S. borders, they’re downright frightening.

Consider the Trump administration’s decision to make a U-turn on Iran policy. This week, Trump has pledged to go against the previous administration, many of his own top advisors, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations in decertifying that Iran has abided by the terms of the nuclear deal negotiated back in 2015.

For Trump’s critics, including virtually all Iran policy experts at the moment, this attempt at scuttling the world’s most sophisticated arms control agreement sends absolutely the wrong signal to Iran. Trump is essentially saying, “It doesn’t really matter whether you have adhered to the letter of the agreement, we’re still going to break our commitment because, honestly, we just don’t like you. And by the way, you can’t count on the United States to keep its word in the future.”

Trump is sending an even more damaging message to the rest of the world: “We as a country suffer from mood swings so severe and delusions so enduring that we can no longer be a responsible member of the international community.”

After deep-sixing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration is making good on this one campaign promise even as all the others stall in Congress or the courts. Trump will make America First even if it means going against obvious American national interests, even those defined by the Chamber of Commerce.

This is not the first time that other countries have witnessed the political instability of the United States. But in the past, some underlying continuity provided a measure of reassurance to other countries. Voters might choose vanilla or chocolate, but the world still expects in the end to get some variety of ice cream.

What makes the Trump era different is the lack of that underlying continuity. Trump might look like vanilla or chocolate or some kind of swirl, but in reality he’s Semtex in a cone. After pretending for a year or more that he’s a natural product of the system, even top members of the governing party have become deeply worried about the orange brick of plastic explosive that now occupies the Oval Office.

Past Mood Swings

The last 40 years of American political life have been a series of switchbacks. Ford made way for Carter who made way for Reagan. After George H.W. Bush came a leftish turn under Clinton, a rightish turn under George W. Bush, then a left with Obama, then a hard right with Trump.

In some cases, the new party in power instituted a profound policy transformation. Ronald Reagan ushered in a new economic order. George W. Bush introduced a new post-Cold War unilateralism.

Trump has vowed to destroy the old order altogether.

Adversaries and allies alike can be excused for suffering from whiplash trying to keep up with the changes. Let’s consider this problem from the vantage point of North Korea, which has had only three leaders in over 70 years and no significant U-turn in policy during that time.

The North Korean leadership negotiated a deal with the Clinton administration in 1994 only to come face to face six years later with open hostility from the George W. Bush administration. It was a bewildering experience. Kim Jong Il apparently mourned what had been possible under Clinton, saying to the former president when he visited in 2009 that “The United States would have had a new friend in Northeast Asia in a complex world.”

Then, after finally managing to secure agreement with this initially hostile Bush administration in 2005, North Korea came up hard three years later against the cautious indifference of the Obama administration. The North Koreans were not entirely blameless in this shadow play, but still they must think that the United States has cyclical bouts of insanity.

It’s not just the North Koreans. The democratic world, for instance, found the transition to the George W. Bush years particularly bewildering. Even before the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration announced that it wouldn’t implement the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. After the attacks, the administration broke with international law by embarking on a “preventive” war, violating the Geneva Conventions on treatment of captured combatants, and engaging in torture. The administration also backed away from the Rome statute establishing the International Criminal Court in May 2002 and withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Russia in June 2002. All of these actions profoundly troubled America’s allies.

And yet in some respects even the Bush years seem like a golden age of multilateralism compared to the present moment. The Bush administration mobilized international support against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. It attempted to fashion its own “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq. It would put together six-party talks to negotiate a deal with North Korea. It pushed through a Central America Free Trade Agreement. Bush may have been a cowboy, but he didn’t embrace an entirely go-it-alone ethos.

In other words, even with its sharp turn toward unilateralism, the Bush administration held to a bipartisan consensus in favor of multilateral initiatives that benefit the United States. In some ways Bush offered only a variation on the Clinton theme of “a la carte multilateralism” in which the United States picks and chooses the international structures with which it wants to cooperate.

This kind of Bush-style unilateralism wrapped in a-la-carte multilateralism has returned to the White House. It’s represented by most of the top administration officials involved in foreign affairs: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Pentagon chief James Mattis, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. These are the so-called adults in the room.

But Trump is something different. And that’s what has thrown Republicans like Bob Corker (R-TN) into a tizzy.

Corker and Iran

When the Obama administration was trying to win congressional support for the Iran nuclear deal back in 2015, the Republican Party was skeptical, to say the least. In the Senate, Republican lawmakers even managed to attract four Democrats to their effort to break a Democratic filibuster against a resolution to reject the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But the effort still fell two votes short, and the deal went through.

Bob Corker was part of this Republican bloc. But his role behind the scenes was more complicated than this vote might indicate. Together with Ben Cardin (D-MD), Corker negotiated a series of deals with the Obama administration that ultimately eased passage of the bill by requiring not congressional approval but, rather, congressional disapproval of the agreement (which required more than a simple majority vote). In return, the administration agreed to various oversight mechanisms — including one that requires the president to certify Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days. Corker and Cardin also worked to expand non-nuclear sanctions against Iran.

Bob Corker is not a moderate Republican. He has an 80 percent ranking from the American Conservative Union for 2016 (by comparison, Susan Collins of Maine clocks in at 44 percent). He’s no softie on Iran, either. Last year, he continued to try to pile on additional sanctions against Iran. Ultimately, he had to content himself with an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act for another 10 years. During the presidential campaign, Corker advised Donald Trump on foreign policy and was even in the running for secretary of state.

Corker is cut from the same cloth as Rex Tillerson. They’re conservative Republicans who believe in “America First.” But they’re also committed to preserving a measure of professionalism, if nothing else, when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. They want to preserve U.S. alliances. They want to advance the interests of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

They’re not isolationists, and they’re not exactly internationalists either. They occupy the right wing of the underlying foreign policy consensus that encompasses the think tanks, lobby shops, and mainstream media in DC. They play ball whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House and whichever party controls Congress. They are part of the continuity in American foreign policy that transcends the elections.

So, when Bob Corker takes aim at Donald Trump, it represents a serious breach not just within the Republican Party but within the foreign policy establishment. Over the weekend, Corker charged that Trump was making threats toward other countries that could send the United States reeling toward “World War III.” Later, Corker tweeted in response to Trump, “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” Having decided not to run for re-election, Corker is now free to speak truth to power.

Corker’s most proximate concern is Trump deciding to bomb North Korea. But the issue of Iran is also on the senator’s mind. Trump has blamed Corker for the Iran deal when in fact the Tennessee senator was merely trying to give Congress some say over the process. When the president decertifies Iran’s compliance, according to the legislation that Corker helped to pass, Congress will then have the authority to re-impose the nuclear-related sanctions that the JCPOA lifted. But the Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate and the president can’t afford to alienate a single member of his party.

So, why pick a fight with Corker just when the president will need him most on the congressional battle over any new Iran sanctions? Writes Adam Taylor in The Washington Post:

By handing off any real decision to Congress, [Trump] can avoid having to make a hard decision himself. And by picking a fight with Corker, he has a scapegoat if his supporters grow frustrated with a lack of action in Congress. It seems plausible that Trump’s allies are simply being prepared for another legislative failure.

In other words, it’s all about the war that Trump and his still-loyal lieutenant Steve Bannon, assisted by UN ambassador Nikki Haley, have declared on the “deep state.” They want to dismantle the foreign policy establishment that has presided over America’s engagement in the world. A progressive might find much to rejoice in this attack, given that America’s engagement with the world has often been through war and corporate penetration. But the establishment is more than that, and Trump/Bannon also want to unravel everything of diplomatic and humanitarian value as well.

Also, Trump and Bannon aren’t really interested in draining the foreign policy swamp in DC. They simply want to install their own cronies who will ensure that war and globalization benefit them rather than Kissinger and his ilk. It’s a shell game designed to fool Trump’s base, but the rest of the world has kept its eye on the ball. That’s why Israel and Saudi Arabia, who also benefit from Trump-style war and globalization, continue to rejoice at White House policies when everyone else is aghast.

Trump is calculating that every defeat he’s handed by the foreign policy establishment will only boost his standing for the next election. The outrage of Bob Corker and the international community only burnishes his reputation among those who want to build walls everywhere, from the border with Mexico to the public bathrooms of North Carolina, and destroy everything else.

But those elections are still some time away. In the meantime, Corker and other freethinking conservatives in his party may be the only thing that can contain the politician of mass destruction that is Donald Trump.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.