By CHARLES STROHMER
In May, President Donald Trump pulled United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.
In June, he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong UN in Singapore to start denuclearization negotiations with the secretive regime. It is hard to square these two historic yet contradictory foreign policy events unless a war with Iran is in the cards. And it may be.
Formal talks with North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons is a wise move, even if realizing that goal will test the diplomatic skill of both sides as well as everyone's patience. The dueling statements after the recent sit-down between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the North Korean diplomats are probably indicative of disturbing disconnects to come. Pompeo called the meeting "productive," adding that "progress had been made." But "regrettable," "really disappointing," and "gangster-like" was the language of the North Korean foreign ministry.
This should not surprise. Tetchy diplomatic exchanges occurred regularly between negotiators when hammering out the JCPOA. But it is smarter for adversarial states to keep talking to work out their differences. If they do not, they will grow increasingly adversarial by not talking to each other. Yet that is road President Trump has taken America on by exiting out of the JCPOA.
It would have been wiser for the president to task the State Department to springboard off the JCPOA to seek through negotiations to try to resolve areas of critical concern to Washington and Tehran that were not within the nuclear deal's purview. Such talks may not have been any easier in getting to Yes than they were with the JCPOA. But getting to Yes is wiser than going to war. And war may now be in the cards.
History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. In October 1998, regime change in Iraq became official policy of the United States, through a bill that sailed through Congress and was signed into law by President Clinton on October 31 as The Iraq Liberation Act. Voila! In the spring of 2003, "Mission Accomplished." Not.
The U.S. has no official policy toward Iran equivalent to the Iraq Liberation Act, but in 1953 the CIA and MI6 worked together to change the regime in Iran. Sixty-five years later, is this the Trump administration's unofficial-official policy?
Within two weeks of pulling America out of the JCPOA, President Trump appointed John Bolton as his new National Security Advisor. Bolton, a strong and vocal advocate of regime change in Iran, wrote in the New York Times in 2015 that bombing Iran is the only way to stop the development of its nuclear program.
"Such action should be ... aimed at regime change in Tehran," he concluded. Also strongly critical of Iran is U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose string of non-negotiable demands to Tehran amounts to putting the kind of economic stranglehold on Iran that could lead to war.
Also in the cards were the years of secret talks taking place between the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister. The goal of these no-longer-secret talks was to form a solid coalition with other Arab Gulf states to combat Iran. That goal was partly held in check for eight years by the foreign policy of the Obama White House. With Donald Trump in the Oval Office that Middle East military alliance against Iran has been strengthened by the Trump family's long-term friendship with Netanyahu, his withdrawal of America from the JCPOA, and the results of his first official foreign trip, in May 2017, to Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Changing the regime in Iran may not be the only way to square talking to Marshal Un's regime while refusing to talk to Tehran, but it has an ominous historical rhyme to 1998-2003. As then, there are many hawks in Congress today, and in think tanks and the media, and influential editorialists, who would support regime change in Iran backed by the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East. Iran would fight it tooth and nail, which could easily lead to direct U.S. military involvement.
Talking openly and honestly with Iran to bring that nation further out of the cold is the wiser policy.
In the words of the late Israeli military leader turned politician Moshe Dayan: "If you want to make peace, you don't need to talk to you friends; you talk to your enemies."
Charles Strohmer writes about politics, religion, foreign policy and diplomacy. He is the author of eight books and many articles. He blogs at: www.wagingwisdom.com.