Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge: Trump was right to withdraw from Iran deal

For many, particularly those often critical of President Trump’s behavior, it can be hard to look dispassionately at issues, scrutinize administration policies, and arrive at conclusions that, despite one’s personal aversion to presidential conduct and tactics, require giving credit where credit is due. Iran is a critical case in point.

There is a general perception in Europe and among many in the U.S. that the decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a policy blunder which Europe now needs to mitigate. This is based on the European view that the deal was succeeding within its intentionally limited scope and offered the best foundation for future negotiation with Iran on other foreign policy matters.

It may be true that, in the technical sense of the word, Iran is complying with the JCPOA, and that it is unlikely that Iran will look to develop an offensive nuclear capability in the short term. It is also true that the JCPOA was an encouraging sign of multilateralism between countries that do not often collaborate on critical geopolitical issues.

The mistake in this perspective, however, has been to believe that because the deal was working on those two levels, it was the right thing to do. Let me suggest another perspective.  By misreading Iranian strategy and underappreciating the significance of secondary consequences, the JCPOA has in fact made the region a much more dangerous place and damaged European interests in the process.

It is doubtful that Iran sought nuclear weapons to use against their regional enemies. The commitment to develop weapons capability for over three decades was essential to an Iranian foreign policy centered around revolutionary, sectarian expansionism, primarily within the Middle East. Iran wants to control the region, a goal which it couldn’t rationally achieve by dropping nuclear bombs on its neighbors. Instead, it sought nuclear capability as leverage and protection for its goal of regional hegemony.

The JCPOA’s final text significantly enriched and emboldened Iran. Free at last from the pressures which had brought it to the negotiating table and with a $150 billion American remittance, the regime could escalate its regional destabilization efforts.

This is not about this administration vs. that administration, about Democrats vs. Republicans, or about Americans vs. Europeans. And it is not about Donald Trump. It is about changing the behavior of a rogue nation which threatens the peace and stability upon which the region and the world depend.

While the agreement may have slowed Tehran’s effort to build weapons, it certainly enhanced its short-term strategy. It does not make you safer to tie one hand of the enemy behind his back while putting a gun in the other one.

In the haste to do a deal, the framers of the JCPOA lost sight of its primary mission: to make the world a safer place.

It is understandable that the Persian Gulf States are frustrated that Europe is working so hard to protect a deal which increases the daily risk to their citizens, but not to Europe’s!

And understandably so. Since the deal was signed in 2015, there has been significant strengthening of Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas in Palestine, Shiite militias in Iran, and Bahrain’s militant opposition.  That in turn has led to a much-increased military threat to most Arab countries and Israel, and an elevated possibility of a military conflict between regional powers, which certainly would be disastrous for Europe given its impact on security, trade, and refugee flow.

It is understandable that Europe wants to protect its commercial interests with Iran, but by increasing tension and escalating conflict in such an important region, it is not obvious the JCPOA is advancing those interests in the long-run.

This is not about this administration vs. that administration, about Democrats vs. Republicans, or about Americans vs. Europeans. And it is not about Donald Trump. It is about changing the behavior of a rogue nation which threatens the peace and stability upon which the region and the world depend.

Iran’s current objective is to exploit division here at home and drive a wedge between the U.S. and the Europeans while marching onwards in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.  We would be much better off coming together--here in the U.S., with our European allies, and with Persian Gulf countries--and presenting a constructive, united front against Tehran’s regional expansionism.  Only then will Iran feel the pressure required to moderate its behavior, if it is in fact capable of doing so, without being overthrown.