Trump Promises Quick Post-Election ‘Great Deal With Iran’
President Trump says that if he wins the presidential election, “we’ll have a great deal with Iran within one month.”
The comment, made in an October 9 interview with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, has attracted little attention so far. Headlines about the Iran comments the president made in the interview focused on Trump’s use of an obscenity in warning Iran that the US would retaliate against Tehran if the Iranian regime acted against America. “You do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before,” Trump warned.
Trump’s touting of a new, post-election Iran deal, though, undercut the comments Vice President Pence made days earlier in his debate with Senator Kamala Harris. In that debate, Harris faulted Trump for leaving the Iran nuclear deal that had been reached by the Obama administration. The government of Israel vehemently opposed the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.
Harris, the 2020 Democratic vice presidential candidate, said Trump “has walked away from agreements. You can look at the Iran nuclear deal, which now has put us in a position where we are less safe because they are building up what might end up being a significant nuclear arsenal. We were in that deal guys. We were in the Iran nuclear deal with friends, with allies around the country. And because of Donald Trump’s unilateral approach to foreign policy, coupled with his isolationism, he pulled us out and has made America less safe.”
Pence countered, “You talk about reentering the Iran nuclear deal. I mean the last administration transferred $1.8 billion to the leading state sponsor of terrorism. President Donald Trump got us out of the deal.”
In his August 2020 speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination to run for reelection, Trump had boasted to voters, “I withdrew from the terrible one-sided Iran nuclear deal.”
During the October 9 radio interview, Limbaugh followed up by asking Trump, “A great deal on what?”
Trump responded, “On no nuclear weapons.”
That in itself is a major concession to the Iranian regime. A deal that focuses only on nuclear weapons neglects the other non-nuclear issues that have rightfully made Iran a pariah — its support for terrorism, its missile testing, its proliferation of conventional and nonconventional weapons to other enemy countries, its undermining of the Middle East peace process, and its abuses against democracy, against human rights, and against the rule of law.
The Biden-Harris campaign is already subtly depicting Trump as soft on Iran. Harris herself made the point in the vice-presidential debate that after Trump took out Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani, “there was a counter strike on our troops in Iraq, and they suffered serious brain injuries, and do you know what Donald Trump dismissed them as? Headaches.”
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in 2000, said of Iran, “It’s important for us to see some changes in terms of the policies on proliferation, their desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction, their support for terrorism, and their lack of support for the Middle East Peace Process.”
By contrast, the Obama-Biden approach, also championed by Secretary of State John Kerry, had been to pick off the nuclear issue separately, figuring that the US was in a stronger position on the other issues if Iran did not have an atom bomb. The problem with that approach, though, is that Iran took the billions of dollars in cash and sanctions relief that it got from the nuclear deal and spent it on invigorating its missile program and supporting terrorism. The idea that the nuclear file can be divorced from the other issues is wishful thinking.
This is a point Trump himself made back in 2018, in announcing America’s plans to withdraw from the deal, which he described as “disastrous.”
“Not only does the deal fail to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but it also fails to address the regime’s development of ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads,” Trump said then. “Finally, the deal does nothing to constrain Iran’s destabilizing activities, including its support for terrorism.”
There are a lot of voters, including Jewish voters and evangelical Christian voters in places like Florida and Pennsylvania and North Carolina, who are preparing to cast a vote to reelect President Trump in part on the basis of his strong support for Israel. If Trump is going to strike a post-election deal with the murderous mullahs, the voting public deserves to know the terms of the deal now, before the election. Will Trump promise to make the full text of any such agreement, including any side letters, public? Will Trump submit it to the Senate for ratification as a treaty, as envisioned by the Constitution’s Treaty clause: “He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur”?
The prospect of a new Iran deal doesn’t come entirely from nowhere. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech to Congress in 2015, insisted, “The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.” In June 2020, after Iran released an American captive, Trump tweeted, “Thank you to Iran. Don’t wait until after US Election to make the Big deal. I’m going to win. You’ll make a better deal now!”
Unless Trump provides clarity on these matters rapidly, he risks eroding a key point of differentiation between himself and the Democrats. It was the Democrats, after all, who originally championed a nuclear deal with Iran.
Beyond the political risk to Trump is the geostrategic risk to the US and Israel — that a new deal would wind up propping up and enriching a corrupt and hostile Iranian regime on the verge of collapse. What’s the rush? The Iranian regime and its European enablers need this deal a lot more than the US does. Perhaps the threat of such a deal may be useful for pushing the Saudis, rivals of Iran, into a peace deal with Israel. And perhaps a genuinely big deal with Iran will come someday that includes not only the nuclear program but peace with Israel, democracy, human rights, rule of law, counterterrorism, and limits on Iran’s conventional weapons.
I hope that it does. Rushing back into an Obama-style Iran nuclear deal after the American election, though, would be a big mistake, whether the president doing it is Obama or Trump.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.