Editor’s Note: Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is the author of “Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between LA and DC Revolutionized American Politics.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Donald Trump pulling America out of the Iran nuclear deal is the biggest thing he’s yet done on the international stage, with the greatest consequences. I understand entirely why people might feel nervous: Iran’s warning that it is ready to start nuclear enrichment was frightening. But the President is, on balance, correct. Either the world deals with Iran now, or it deals with a nuclear Iran in the future.
The argument for keeping the deal going was reasonable: no one advocating the status quo was “weak” or trying to preserve their Obama-era legacy. But the deal amounted to bribing Iran to suspend its nuclear program, which is like feeding a wild animal scraps of meat to dissuade it from biting you. The deal lifted sanctions, threw the regime an economic lifeline and effectively recognized it as part of the international order. It moved toward the regularization of a pariah state.
The problem is that Iran’s regime is not regular. Look at what it’s been doing since the deal was signed. Even if uranium enrichment has been stopped, Tehran has continued, quite openly, to invest in its missile program. It has harassed foreign citizens.
It has also hugely expanded its power within the region, establishing a presence in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. Indeed, a country’s attitude toward the Iran deal depends in part on its proximity to Iran. Israel, for instance, cannot tolerate its neighbors being turned into military colonies of a hostile foreign power. It feels vulnerable to attack.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian women chant slogans during an anti-US demonstration outside the former US embassy headquarters in the capital Tehran on May 9, 2018. - Iranians reacted with a mix of sadness, resignation and defiance on May 9 to US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal, with sharp divisions among officials on how best to respond.
For many, Trump's decision on Tuesday to pull out of the landmark nuclear deal marked the final death knell for the hope created when it was signed in 2015 that Iran might finally escape decades of isolation and US hostility. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
How will US pulling out of deal impact Iranians?
Trump announces withdrawal from Iran deal
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Iranian lawmakers burn two pieces of papers representing the U.S. flag and the nuclear deal as they chant slogans against the U.S. at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Iranian lawmakers have set a paper U.S. flag ablaze at parliament after President Donald Trump's nuclear deal pullout, shouting, "Death to America!". President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal on Tuesday and restored harsh sanctions against Iran. (AP Photo)
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U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions from the press during a meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office October 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump answered a range of questions during the portion of the meeting that was open to the press, including queries on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Years of Trump panning the Iran deal
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ISFAHAN, IRAN - MARCH 30: A worker walks inside of an uranium conversion facility March 30, 2005 just outside the city of Isfahan, about 254 miles (410 kilometers), south of capital Tehran, Iran. The cities of Isfahan and Natanz in central Iran are home to the heart of Iran's nuclear program. The facility in Isfahan makes hexaflouride gas, which is then enriched by feeding it into centrifuges at a facility in Natanz, Iran. Iran's President Mohammad Khatami and the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation Gholamreza Aghazadeh is scheduled to visit the facilities. (Photo by Getty Images)
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President Donald Trump delivers a statement on the Iran nuclear deal from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04: Former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden (Ret.) testifies during a hearing before Senate Armed Services Committee August 4, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the military balance in the Middle East. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Ex-CIA chief: Netanyahu's findings are old news
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents material on Iranian nuclear weapons development during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Monday, April 30 2018. Netanyahu says his government has obtained "half a ton" of secret Iranian documents proving the Tehran government once had a nuclear weapons program. Calling it a "great intelligence achievement," Netanyahu said Monday that the documents show that Iran lied about its nuclear ambitions before signing a 2015 deal with world powers. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
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Haley: This is concrete evidence against Iran