Terry H. Schwadron
The Trump White House has succeeded at being the gang that mostly doesn’t do what it said. And boasting.
Maybe it will change, or maybe the mounting investigations will simply overwhelm any sense of legislative or diplomatic agenda, but as things stand, the Wall isn’t happening, health care is stuck, the once-despised NATO is now a wonderful partner, NAFTA may be modernized but not thrown out, as vowed, the Paris accords on climate change is still the law of the land. This list goes on and on poorly reflecting on the campaign to-do list.
The latest of these unfinished business items comes on the eve of President Trump’s first foreign trip, with all the delicate maneuvering that will entail. The Trump administration has said that it will not, for now, pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, despite some of Mr. Trump’s oft-repeated debasement of Obama decision-making to get the deal in place.
The President is headed for several stops that do not include Iran, but Iranian and Russian endeavors will prove a subtext for many of the conversations, as will endless conversations about ISIS and terrorists.
Indeed, even as North Korea threatens nuclear conflict and further weapons testing, the parallel promise by the President to rip up the Iran deal has been abandoned. It is all of a sudden, the Iran deal looks to have been a good deal rather than a “disaster.”
Obama’s view was that without a shot fired, the U.S. and Europe were able to make a deal lifting most economic sanctions for a 10-year promise by Iran not to develop nuclear weapons. From the cheap seats of the campaign, it apparently was easier for candidate Trump to criticize than for President Trump to actually do it.
There was a deadline this week to waive sanctions against Iran, as required by the deal. To do otherwise was to risk Iran resuming production of nuclear fuel for weapons.
Instead, the White House called for “modest” new sanctions against several Iranian individuals and four groups that included a China-based network that had supplied missile-building items to Iran. They promised to revisit the nuclear deal in the months ahead.
“The U.S. and its partners will continue to apply pressure on Iran to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone in Iran,” said Stuart E. Jones, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, who is traveling with Mr. Trump to the Middle East.
Those familiar with the deal had pointed out that there were legal hurdles that were difficult to overcome. This White House has a pattern of finding things just a bit too complicated for them to solve easily. This is to say nothing of the common sense argument that, by agreement, Iran is not investing in nuclear weapons development at the moment — exactly the outcome that we want from North Korea. On top of all else, Iran votes this weekend for president, re-electing Hassan Rouhani, who was willing to negotiate the deal.
One could guess that most of the top White House staff is busy trying to get by the current problems of the many investigations into Team Trump and Russian attempts to influence our elections.
Targeted were business dealings with two senior Iranian military officials and a network of companies associated with a Chinese man who supplies technology and financing aiding Iran’s missile program.
In any event, the chaos in the White House and the list of unfinished business items is not a great record to bring as baggage to the President’s first foreign trip. That is to say nothing of getting the Saudis to disregard his anti-Muslim outbursts, ameliorating any Israeli anger over sharing their intelligence without asking, getting the blessings of a Pope who has criticized him and finding public support from other G-7 leaders.
His leaky White House staff has made clear is that they have been hard at work just to keep the President’s public persona and tone respectful and informed during the foreign visits. News articles this week repeatedly noted that foreign leaders were being prepped to keep meetings short, focused and inclusive of some item that would enable Mr. Trump to find a “win” for the United States somewhere in the murk.
The Art of the Deal does require getting a deal after all. That means carrying out our side of whatever agreements emerge.
So far, other than being Donald Trump, the record doesn’t have much to show.