Jonathan S. Tobin
The international community made no secret of its contempt for U.S. President Donald Trump when he spoke to the U.N. General Assembly this week. So it was little surprise that when the president uttered a typical piece of Trumpian braggadocio with a tenuous connection to the truth—“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country”—the response was peals of laughter from the normally restrained audience of officials in the chamber.
For most of the media, this was a telling moment not just because it momentarily flummoxed the president, but because it also conformed to the way his opponents think of him. Trump’s critics see him in general as unworthy of the presidency, but his lack of knowledge about foreign affairs and respect for the post-World War II order has caused him to be regarded by the policy establishment as a hopeless ignoramus and a danger to the world.
But while that disdain resonated in the media coverage of the speech, those doing the chortling shouldn’t be too confident that they will have the last laugh. Trump’s willingness to challenge the establishment’s conventional wisdom and to rail at “globalists” may seem comical at the United Nations and on CNN. But those who think that the international community will be able to thwart his efforts to overturn the Iran nuclear deal are the ones who are playing the fool.
That Trump would think to brag at the world-body arena about his Middle East policies was inconceivable to his U.N. audience. They regard his willingness to drop the international community’s fiction about Jerusalem not being Israel’s capital as shocking. They feel just as strongly about Trump’s plans to finally hold the Palestinians accountable for their rejection of peace and support for terror. But on Jerusalem, as well as seeking the end of UNRWA—the U.N. agency that is devoted to perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem rather than resolving it—Trump is merely showing common sense.
Though bereft of policy experience, he understands that the “experts” have spent the last few decades being consistently wrong about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet even some who favor Israel worry that his support is meaningless since they view Trump as destroying American influence in the world.
It is in that context that his stance on Iran actually proves the opposite point.
Though the United Nations and America’s European allies think Trump is isolating the United States and diminishing its ability to influence events, it is they who are being unrealistic. Whether they like it or not, Trump is getting his way on Iran, and nothing his opponents are planning to do is likely to stop him.
The Europeans are adamant that the Iran deal is the best way to control Iran’s nuclear program. But it is figures like French President Emmanuel Macron, who denounced American policies at the United Nations, who are the fabulists in this debate, not Trump.
The Iran deal was an act of appeasement on the part of President Barack Obama that threw away the West’s leverage at the very moment when Iran was at its weakest. The pact enriched and empowered a rogue regime to the point where it is a greater threat to regional security than ever before, and knows it only has to have the patience to wait for the nuclear deal to expire within a decade before resuming its march to a bomb with the West unable and unwilling to do anything about it.
The assumption by the Europeans and Obama supporters was that it was irreversible because America’s allies would never consent to a return to sanctions on Iran. That argument was always flawed. It was always within the power of the United States to enact new sanctions and to deny the right to do business with American financial institutions to any entity that continued to operate in Iran. Enacting such sanctions would offend U.S. allies, as well as other nations like Russia and China.
In other words, it was the kind of thing that only a Trump would do.
But far from being ineffective, the reaction from the European Union and others shows that they know Trump is succeeding. The re-imposition of sanctions on Iran’s oil exports is already having a major impact on their shaky economy. When new, more far-reaching sanctions are imposed in November, along with regulations that will give the Europeans a choice between economic ties with the United States or Iran, their problems will multiply. The brave talk from people like E.U. head Federica Mogherini that they will create a bank that will shield European companies from U.S. sanctions is as absurd as it is unworkable. Trump may not be respected, but the idea that the Europeans can afford to exist outside in isolation from the U.S. economy or that American sanctions can’t bring Iran to its knees is the real joke.
Too many Trump critics are still looking at his foreign policy through the lens of past conflicts. The “America First” slogan he has embraced has frightening historical baggage, and his skepticism about NATO remains troubling. But Trump’s push against the “globalists” is not anti-Semitic—and not just because it is part of a clear tilt towards Israel.
As long as key U.S. allies seem more concerned about defending their right to profit from commerce with Iran than in bringing to heal the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism or in holding the Palestinians accountable for their terrorist acts, America will need a leader who is willing to run roughshod over friends who act as Iran’s enablers. Seen from that perspective, Trump looks a lot smarter than his European counterparts, who have tied themselves to failed destructive policies that must be discarded to ensure the security of the West. They may think they can wait him out until he is replaced in 2021. But a U.S. campaign to stop Iran is likely to succeed before then. If so, it will be Trump who will be the one smiling.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathans_tobin.