Putting Trump to the Test
How will United States President Donald Trump treat Iran? is becoming one of the big questions in world news as the Islamic State retreats in Syria and Iraq and the two powers draw closer to outright hostility. Former President Barack Obama favored a policy of negotiation with Iran. Mr. Trump’s words have been much tougher.
But what will his actions look like?
Iran has already been putting Mr. Trump to the test. Almost as soon as he was elected, the Islamic Republic launched a series of experiments to see exactly how the new leader would react.
The results of those experiments give us a good idea of what to expect in Mr. Trump’s upcoming dealings with Iran.
IRAN EXPERIMENT #1: How Would Mr. Trump React to a Violation of the Nuclear Agreement if We Fired a Ballistic Missile Capable of Delivering a Nuclear Warhead?
Iran’s first examination of Mr. Trump occurred on January 29, only nine days after he took office. An anonymous American official announced that Iran had fired off a medium-range ballistic missile from Semnan, a site near Tehran, which exploded after traveling over 625 miles.
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said the missile was capable of delivering a 500-kilogram nuclear payload, putting the test in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 which states, “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
At a special closed-door session of the UN Security Council on January 31 in New York, America had strong words for Iran.
At the meeting Haley called the test fire “absolutely unacceptable.” “The United States is not naive” she continued. “We are not going to stand by. You will see us call them out. We are committed to making them understand that this is not anything that we will ever accept.”
In a White House briefing, national security advisor Michael Flynn said (emphasis added throughout):
The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and place American lives at risk.
President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama administration, as well as the United Nations, as being weak and ineffective.
Instead of being thankful to the United States for these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened.
As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.
When asked what being put “on notice” meant, White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded, “I think we wanted to make very clear that we felt … that their actions were both provocative and a violation, and making sure that they understood that we weren’t going to sit by and not act on those actions.”
Mr. Trump followed this up with a tweet February 2 saying, “Iran has been formally put on notice for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!”
The next day he added, “Iran is playing with fire—they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”
All of this harsh rhetoric gave hope to America’s allies in the Middle East. America finally seemed willing to take action and push back against Iran. “We are so happy and excited about President Trump,” said Abdullah al-Shammari, a former Saudi Arabian diplomat. “We expect him to deal with the Iranians as the threat that they are, producing missiles and interfering in other countries.”
Iran, on the other hand, had been observing its subject closely, and was not convinced by the Trump administration’s sharp words. Iran’s foreign minister tweeted that Iran was “unmoved” by the threats emanating from Washington and that it refused to acknowledge that its actions were a violation of the nuclear agreement. As its Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, “We are waiting to see how the U.S. government will act in different international issues to evaluate their approach.”
The administration came out with a barrage of intense rhetoric, but what exactly did America do? What approach did it take?
On February 3, the administration took “initial steps” by imposing sanctions on 25 individuals and entities involved in the ballistic missile test. The Pentagon also dispatched the destroyer uss Cole to the coast of Yemen. Flynn held up these actions triumphantly, saying that “the days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.” A few days later, Spicer said, “I think the ayatollah is going to realize there’s a new president in office. This president’s not going to sit by and let Iran flout its violations, or its apparent violations, to the joint agreement, but he will continue to take action as he sees fit.” They stated this as if their token sanctions had just inflicted a deadly blow to the Iranian regime, and acted as if Iran should brace itself for more to come.
Results: After Iran tested ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads, the Trump administration heavily criticized Iran’s actions—its tough rhetoric implied it was planning on taking firm and decisive action against the regime. In the end, the administration’s actions amounted to weak sanctions, indicating that America will do little to stop Iran.
Follow-up Experiment: On Wednesday, February 8, Iran decided to respond to the administration’s sanctions and test more ballistic missiles from the same launchpad as the previous tests. The goal was to show America that its words were not being taken seriously, and at the same time gather more evidence. America reacted as expected—or rather, it didn’t react, as expected.
IRAN EXPERIMENT #2: Will President Trump Take Action Against the Nuclear Deal?
From the beginning of his run for president, Mr. Trump made clear where he stood on the Iran deal, calling it “a bad deal.” In September 2015, he said, “I have been doing deals for a long time … never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran. And I mean never.”
He came out firmly against it, suggesting that if he became president he would make some drastic changes. “I’ll tell you that this deal, if I win, will be a totally different deal. This will be a totally different deal.” Without explaining what he intended to do, he said, “I will do something that will be very strong.”
On Sept. 8, 2015, he finally clarified his objectives by promising, “When I am elected president, I will renegotiate with Iran …. A Trump presidency will force the Iranians back to the bargaining table to make a much better deal. A Trump presidency will make America great again.”
Then on March 21, 2016, the future president made this bold statement during one of his election campaigns: “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
If this was Mr. Trump’s number one priority, certainly that meant he would act immediately on the issue when coming into office. Watching Mr. Trump’s action on the nuclear deal would, then, be Iran’s next test.
During his first 100 days of taking office, the Iranians really didn’t have a whole lot to add to their observations about Mr. Trump’s number one priority, other than that he seemed to not be making it a priority at all.
Finally he took a step. A letter was written and released on April 18 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson providing an assessment of Iran’s compliance to the nuclear deal. If they could find a violation against the deal, they would have a reason to take action against Iran. Notice what the end of the letter stated: “This letter certifies that the conditions of Section 135(d)(6) of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (aea), as amended, including as amended by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (Public Law 114-17), enacted May 22, 2015, are met as of April 18, 2017.”
In other words, they found that Iran had been in compliance with the nuclear deal, and the U.S. had to hold up its end of the bargain and extend sanctions relief to Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic program.
Although the administration agreed to comply with the nuclear accord, it is clear that it doesn’t wish for it to remain that way. In a State Department briefing on April 19, Tillerson made sharp remarks about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (jcpoa) saying, “The jcpoa fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran; it only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state. This deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea. The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”
Those were some more strong words from the Trump administration, but how it wants to actually achieve this is unclear. Tillerson stated that the current course of action is “conducting a comprehensive review of our Iran policy.” They will “evaluate whether the suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the jcpoa is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”
But as Louis Jacobson of Politifact brought out, that doesn’t mean much. In his article titled “Mixed Messages on Iran, but Tangible Moves Toward Reversal Haven’t Happened Yet,” he brings out that just because a policy review has been initiated, it doesn’t mean it will be translated into action:
The strongest piece of evidence of moving towards renegotiation is the announcement of the inter-agency review. However, that news by itself is not necessarily a big deal, experts said.
“Policy reviews are a given—they happen every time there’s a turnover” in the White House, said Richard Nephew, a senior research scholar on global energy policy at Columbia University. “They may produce significant results, but as of now, this team is saying that this deal is going to remain as is, and in effect.”
Nephew said it’s hard to argue that any administration, even a Democratic one, wouldn’t have undertaken a similar review.
Matthew Bunn, a nuclear specialist at the Harvard Kennedy School, agreed.
“All Tillerson said was that they would review the application of sanctions, not that they were coming up with renegotiation ideas,” Bunn said.
Even if they had found Iran in violation of the nuclear accord, Mr. Trump admitted himself in 2015 that tearing up the deal would be disastrous. He stated, “I would love to tell you I’m going to rip up this contract, I’m going to be the toughest guy in the world, and I’m just rippin’ it up, but you know what? Life doesn’t work that way.” Why? Because he knows that America has already given Iran everything it ever wanted from the deal.
Time magazine’s Massimo Calabresi wrote on April 20:
The truth is the Trump administration is boxed in. Most of the important concessions the world made to Iran have already kicked in, including opening up Iran for outside business and returning tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets.
Iran has already admitted publicly that if the agreement were annulled it would restart its nuclear program. “Tearing up the deal would mean that our program would resume in a new manner that would shock Washington,” Iran’s head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said in January. Not only would “trashing the deal now … allow Iran to restart its nuclear program,” continued Calabresi, but it would leave “Tehran holding most or all of the goodies that were offered as enticement to suspend it.”
It’s almost game over already. Mr. Trump can tear up the deal, but taking back the billions of dollars Iran has been given, or convincing the rest of the world to re-impose sanctions that they’ve just lifted, seems almost impossible. Mr. Trump has been backed into a corner, and Iran’s experiment is showing that he is unable to get out. He cannot dismantle the deal nor renegotiate the deal—and embracing the deal means that Iran gets everything it wanted in the first place and more merely by just complying with the deal.
Instead of dismantling the nuclear facilities, Iran can deactivate parts of them; continue massacring Yemenis, Syrians and Iraqis, while supporting terrorism through Hamas and Hezbollah; continue to test intercontinental ballistic missiles; and continue to research on new technology involved in producing atomic bombs. All while the U.S. says it is complying with the jcpoa.
Result: Despite President Trump’s open disgust for the nuclear deal, his hasty promises to renegotiate or dismantle the deal amount to nothing.
IRAN EXPERIMENT #3: How Would Mr. Trump React if We Take Control of a Vital Sea Channel?
The Bab el-Mandeb is a critical sea gate at the southern tip of the Red Sea. Each day, approximately 55 ships pass through it, carrying 3.8 million barrels of oil per day—meaning 10 percent of all global seaborne oil supplies pass through this gate! Iran’s control of Yemen through the Houthi militia has allowed it to destabilize shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb, but recently it has been testing the waters more to see if anyone will push back.
The Houthis began planting naval mines in the strait at the beginning of the year in an effort to control this critical sea-lane. After noticing the increased action in the region, the U.S. dispatched the uss Cole in February to the coast of Yemen with the intention of responding to incidents in the Bab el-Mandeb. When push came to shove, however, the naval ship neither deterred Iran nor prevented destruction.
At the beginning of March, a Yemeni Coast Guard vessel was undertaking a surveillance tour through the region when it exploded after striking a mine, killing two of the servicemen on board and injuring eight.
Result: Control over this region is important to Iran’s strategy, as it gives the nation the ability to cause major disruptions to European energy supplies. If cut off, oil tankers would be forced to take the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope, causing oil prices to surge. Despite the Trump administration’s declarations that it would take a stronger stance on Iran, it is clear that Iran does not expect any serious American intervention in the region, so it will continue to push for control over this strategic sea gate.
These three tests of the Trump administration make clear that the administration’s tough words do not match up with its actions, and it cannot be taken seriously. Iran will continue to pursue its interests without concern of American intervention.
Mr. Trump may find a way to be a little stronger in Syria. But ultimately the Iranian regime can feel secure—America will not destroy it, no matter how strong Mr. Trump’s words may be at times.
A European Response
Iran isn’t the only one keeping a watchful eye on America. The whole world, especially Europe, keenly watched as the new president stepped up to the task of directing the once great superpower. The results of Trump’s three tests are concerning to Germany, who sees an America turning isolationist, leaving behind a power vacuum. America has allowed the Iranians to continue testing ballistic missiles capable of delivering the nuclear bombs that it has effectively handed to them. Iran’s actions in the Bab el-Mandeb are especially concerning, as they directly impact Europe. If this sea gate were closed, it would cause a major energy crisis in Europe. If America chooses not to stand up, someone else will have to do the job.
This is exactly what the Bible prophesies. Notice what editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote about America’s unwillingness to confront Iran:
Daniel 11:40 shows that as these events play out with Iran, the United States won’t be a factor! It is Europe that Iran is going to push against. And it is Europe that will respond.
A European superpower is rising on the scene that will have the boldness and the power to deal with Iran’s pushing.
Europe is very worried about what Iran just did in Yemen. And unlike America, this European power will act!
The lack of American response is a major factor in Europe’s actions. Watch as Iran continues to push at a Europe already facing major obstacles. To gain a better understanding of where this is all leading, read Gerald Flurry’s article “Iran Gets a Stranglehold on the Middle East.”