Oct. 13, 2017
Heather Hurlburt interpreted Trump's Iran announcement for New York Magazine.
If the theatrics of today’s speech reminds you more of a reality-show season premiere than high diplomacy, it’s not accidental. Trump and his team are stage-managing Iran policy as if it were an episode of The Apprentice. He intentionally built drama for weeks — from his September taunt to the United Kingdom, our closest ally, that he’d made a decision but wasn’t willing to share it, to a steady drip of leaks and time changes in the lead-up to today’s announcement. European ambassadors were called to the State Department days ahead of time, then told the State Department had nothing to tell them.
Tune in for the season opener, right?
But international diplomacy doesn’t thrive on “reveals” — in fact, it tends to fall apart over them. Even so, today’s remarks from Trump just reinforced the White House’s established line on foreign policy: an intense desire to shift responsibility to Congress and other countries — and an administration at war with itself.
Trump didn’t take either of the big steps he’d threatened. He declined to certify that Iran is in compliance with the six-party deal to halt Iran’s nuclear-weapons program — but did not pull the U.S. out of the deal, and didn’t offer any new evidence of Iranian noncompliance. Eventually it came clear the his administration would designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (the branch of Iran’s military that takes the lead in supporting extremists overseas) as a terrorist organization. And as part of his new strategy, he promised to work with allies, place additional sanctions on the regime and the Revolutionary Guard, address problematic regime actions, and deny the regime paths to a nuclear weapon. But he punted stronger action to Congress.
From a diplomatic perspective, it was a confused and isolating message.