President Trump’s speech at the UN General Assembly was eerily reminiscent of President Bush’s remarks at the same forum 15 years ago. However, instead of spouting distortions and outright falsehoods about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the four-letter Middle Eastern country targeted today is Iran.
The president claimed that “the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” ominously concluding, “I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it. Believe me.” Such bombastic statements fly in the face of hard evidence that the 2015 accord has been successful at preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and yet another U.S. war in the Middle East.
In fact, the U.S. and Israeli intelligence community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN Security Council, and the world’s top nuclear experts have all affirmed that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the deal.
Yet just as the warnings from the IAEA, our European allies, and countless military, intelligence, and security officials wasn’t enough to stop President Bush from taking us to war against Iraq, the evidence of Iranian compliance with the agreement has not stopped President Trump from telegraphing his plans to sabotage the deal, or members of his administration from calling for a regime change in Iran.
This is all expected to come to a head on Oct. 15, the next deadline for the Administration to certify Iranian compliance to Congress. President Trump has indicated he does not plan to recertify Iranian compliance, saying, “If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago,” and that he would not hesitate to overrule the State Department team if they were to come to the opposite conclusion.
Reportedly, President Trump has already side-stepped the State Department by creating a team of White House officials directed by the president “to be in a place to decertify 90 days from now and it’s their job to put them there.” Such reports smack of Doug Feith’s infamous Office of Special Plans, concocted to make the case for war with Iraq.
The White House appears to be pressuring intelligence agencies to make up evidence of Iranian noncompliance. Former CIA analyst Ned Price noted that officials within the intelligence community are warning of a “sense of deja vu” and that “we’ve seen this movie before.”
Indeed, we’ve all seen this movie before, and 14 years after the catastrophic U.S. invasion of Iraq, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians are still dying as a result. Yet straight out of the Iraq war playbook, the Trump Administration is trying to politicize intelligence, and undercut the legitimacy of the IAEA, without presenting a shred of evidence for its claims of Iranian noncompliance.
If President Trump fails to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal on Oct. 15, Congress will receive a 60-day window in which it may re-impose the sanctions that were lifted under the deal. If lawmakers do so, the U.S. will directly violate its obligations for sanctions relief, and virtually guarantee the deal’s wholesale collapse.
But members of Congress may also choose to save the Iran deal from sabotage — if they are pushed to do so. As with the Affordable Care Act debate, massive grassroots mobilization can put lawmakers on notice that they will be held accountable for their decisions — in this case, whether to kill the Iran nuclear deal and put our country on a path toward war.
As with the tentative health-care victory, the American people can defy the odds, and win. On domestic and foreign policy alike, good old-fashioned people power has a proven track record on Capitol Hill. When Congress first voted on the Iran deal in summer 2015, proponents of the deal were vastly outspent by the opponents, yet the overwhelming majority of Americans supporting the deal were ultimately victorious.
This fall, war and peace is on the line. One of the greatest diplomatic achievements of the nuclear age is in peril. If the deal collapses, odds are that Iran will accelerate its nuclear program, and military confrontation will become more likely. As Trump steers a path that may lead to war, we must build an off-ramp for a peaceful solution by harnessing the indomitable strength of the American people.