President Donald Trump wins big in foreign policy this week. In pulling out of the The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Trump both keeps a campaign promise and sends a signal to North Korea that he is willing to walk away from a "bad deal."
Those who are cynical of politics and politicians might remark that it's unusual for an elected official to keep a campaign promise, but that's what Trump did this week. No one should have been surprised that he did not waive the sanctions against Iran. Promise made, promise kept.
Trump campaigned against the agreement. "It was amateur hour for those charged with striking this deal with Iran, demonstrating to the world, yet again, the total incompetence of our president and politicians," Trump wrote in USA Today on September 8, 2015. "It appears we wanted a deal at any cost rather than following the advice of Ronald Reagan and walking away because 'no deal is better than a bad deal.'"
On April 27, 2016, during a campaign speech, Trump said, "We've had a president who dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies. He negotiated a disastrous deal with Iran, and then we watched them ignore its terms, even before the ink was dry. Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon and, under a Trump Administration, will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon...In negotiation, you must be willing to walk. The Iran deal, like so many of our worst agreements, is the result of not being willing to leave the table. When the other side knows you're not going to walk, it becomes absolutely impossible to win."
Remember, the agreement was not a treaty. In November 2015, Julia Frifield, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, wrote to then-Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., "The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and it is not a signed document."
Pompeo is now secretary of state. While in Riyadh recently, he recognized Iran as "the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world," and said, "We are determined to make sure it never possesses a nuclear weapon."
Pompeo was in North Korea when Trump made the announcement regarding the Iran agreement, and on Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, "I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health."
Trump was referring to three U.S. citizens detained by Pyongyang on various charges. While North Korea's response to Trump's announcement was to release the U.S. detainees, Iran's response was different. Kieran Corcoran wrote Wednesday morning for the Business Insider, "Members of Iran's parliament set fire to a U.S. flag and chanted 'death to America' after Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal... The hardline lawmakers, including at least one Shiite Muslim religious leader, chanted 'Death to America,' the traditional anti-U.S. slogan in Iran, as they set the paper flag on fire...Flag-burning and other displays of anti-U.S. sentiment are common in Iran, but rarely make it inside the formal corridors of power in so visceral a form."
Regarding his decision to pull out of the Iran agreement, Trump said Tuesday that "the deal does nothing to constrain Iran's destabilizing activities, including its support for terrorism. Since the agreement, Iran's bloody ambitions have grown only more brazen." No clear progress made, bad deal.
Trump also laid out his goals to "eliminate the threat of Iran's ballistic-missile program, to stop its terrorist activities worldwide, and to block its menacing activity across the Middle East."
He ended with "a message to the long-suffering people of Iran ... the future of Iran belongs to its people. They are the rightful heirs to a rich culture and an ancient land and they deserve a nation that does justice to their dreams, honor to their history, and glory to their god."
Pyongyang's leadership understands that American foreign policy under Trump is different. It will be interesting to see if Tehran's will come to the same understanding. But Trump has clearly communicated that if a deal is bad for the United States, he is willing to walk.