For years, hawks argued that the only effective way to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue was with bombs. Georgetown University professor Matthew Kroenig argued in 2014 that it was “time to attack Iran.” Former United Nations ambassador John Bolton in March 2015 insisted that “only military action” can stop Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.
The key to avoiding conflict with Iran, and thus another costly U.S. war in the Middle East, lies in the survival of the Iran nuclear deal.
The Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran and the P5+1 proved those arguments wrong. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action not only rolled back Iran’s nuclear program, but it effectively quieted the hawks in Washington who insisted that the use of force was the only viable option.
Trump’s campaign promises to rip up the deal and take a decidedly antagonistic posture toward Iran threatened to undo that progress. In January, after an Iranian ballistic missile test, Gen. Michael Flynn, then national security adviser to President Trump, announced that the White House was “officially putting Iran on notice.” Plans to abrogate the JCPOA seemed to be sidelined in favor of taking confrontational actions that undermined the deal but stopped short of violating it, thereby provoking Iranian leaders to abandon the deal themselves.
Now that Flynn is gone, and the more cautious Gen. H. R. McMaster has replaced him, there are indications that the White House has put their saber-rattling over the inflated Iranian threat on hold. In his first address to a joint session of Congress last week, President Trump barely mentioned Iran.
But that doesn’t mean the deal is safe. Its survival depends on Washington adhering to its commitments on Iranian sanctions relief and, to some extent, on Congress refraining from enacting new sanctions.
John Glaser is Associate Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.