In tortured logic, Trump begs for a do-over on the Iran nuclear deal

May 01, 2020

Responsible Statecraft

Even the Trump administration seems to grudgingly have concluded that breaching the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) was a mistake. More than two years after the U.S. exit, the deal still stands while the Trump administration is running out of options to force a re-negotiation. It is now so desperate it is seeking to convince the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that it never quit the deal in the first place. The lesson to the U.S. is clear: Diplomatic vandalism carries costs — even for a superpower. The lesson to a prospective President Joe Biden is more specific: Rejoin the nuclear deal, don’t try to renegotiate it.

Trump Can Either Leave the Middle East or Have War With Iran. He Can't Have Both.

April 30, 2020


“Everybody who has touched the Middle East has gotten bogged down.” Candidate Donald Trump rightly pointed this out in October 2015 as he laid out his vision for a foreign policy that would end America’s forever wars and extract America from its Mideast quagmires. Trump not only tapped into public anger toward Washington’s indifference to the American people’s pain and suffering, but he also pointed to America’s indisputable interest in ending misguided foreign adventures and refocus on domestic needs. President Trump, however, speaks of leaving the region while doing precious little about it. Nowhere has his policy contradicted his promise to get out of the Middle East more than his maximum pressure strategy on Iran.

Covid-19 May Have Given It An Unprecedented Path To The Bomb

March 22, 2020

Responsible Statecraft

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believes the Coronavirus has made Iran ripe for some bombing. Weakened by both sanctions and the pandemic, a window of opportunity exists to strike it militarily, he reportedly told President Donald Trump. But paradoxically, the pandemic may also have given Tehran an opportunity it neither desired nor faced earlier on. Trump’s sanctions have already begun to shift Tehran’s nuclear calculus. Now, the global chaos fomented by the pandemic may have provided it with the opportunity to make a dash for the bomb.

Between Trump And Tehran, The Iranian People Continue To Suffer

February 12, 2020

Middle East Eye

The clerical government in Iran celebrates another anniversary this week. It’s both an occasion for critics to call attention to the Islamic Republic’s perpetual legitimacy crisis, and for neutral observers to puzzle over the revolutionary government’s tenacity. Tehran's opponents are correct in pointing out that its legitimacy crisis is at its deepest since 2009. Yet, there is little to indicate that the Islamic Republic is about to fall - or that it will be replaced with a democratic system if it does. 

Perhaps The Middle East Is More Stable Without The US?

January 06, 2020

Foreign Policy

It has been a mantra of U.S. foreign policy for a decade or more that, without the United States, the Middle East would descend into chaos. Or even worse, Iran would resurrect the Persian Empire and swallow the region whole.

5 Top Developments After Suleimani's Assassination

December 05, 2019

Responsible Statecraft

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has made some shocking revelations that put the assassination of Soleimani in a completely different light. He told the Iraqi parliament on Sunday that he “was supposed to meet Soleimani on the morning of the day he was killed, he came to deliver me a message from Iran responding to the message we delivered from Saudi to Iran.”

America’s Syria Debacle Is Not Trump’s Alone

October 18, 2019

Foreign Policy

Rarely have two sides fought over an issue so ferociously only for both to get it so wrong. First, U.S. President Donald Trump announced almost a year ago that he would be pulling U.S. ground troops out of Syria. He failed to do so. And then, last week, he blessed an invasion into northern Syria by Turkey, which he is now punishing through sanctions for its conduct. The only constant is that Trump claims to want to end “endless wars” while doing nothing of the sort.

What Would It Take for Iran’s President to Meet With Trump?

September 18, 2019

Foreign Affairs

U.S. President Donald Trump has lost faith that his campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran will bring that country to its knees. Trump’s firing last week of John Bolton, the latest of the administration’s national security advisers, signaled as much. And the recent attacks on Saudi oil sites suggest that Bolton’s approach, which was supposed to bring about Iranian capitulation, may instead have begotten Iranian counterescalation and a short brush with war.

Is Trump Accidentally Triggering Reconciliation in the Middle East?

August 08, 2019

The American Prospect

The Trump administration took its irrational animosity toward Iran to new heights this past week by sanctioning Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Though an absurd move that directly contradicts Donald Trump's claim of seeking diplomacy, it appears unlikely to change an increasingly undeniable reality in Trump's standoff with Iran—Zarif and the Iranians are gaining on the long game. This has not escaped America's allies in the Persian Gulf—and some have started to act accordingly. Yet within Trump's defeat lies a victory for America.

Could Obama’s Iran Playbook Save Trump From War?

June 24, 2019

The New Republic

President Donald Trump was conned. He thought his foreign policy advisers had given him an effective strategy to force Iran to renegotiate its nuclear deal with the United States; in reality, this “maximum pressure” strategy was seemingly engineered to corner him into war with Iran.

America’s Confrontation With Iran Goes Deeper Than Trump

June 20, 2019

The Nation

When President Barack Obama accused opponents of his 2015 Iran nuclear deal of being “armchair” warmongers luring Congress toward war, his critics feigned anger. The alternative to Obama’s deal was simply a better deal, they claimed, though most of them had never supported a single diplomatic initiative with Iran. To suggest otherwise was unfair, insulting, and simply fearmongering, they insisted.

Trump blames Iran for the tanker attacks. But let's be skeptical of his administration's pro-war bluster.

June 14, 2019


The Trump administration was quick to point fingers at Iran after explosions on two oil tankers from Japan and Norway in the Gulf of Oman. Undoubtedly, Iran is a plausible suspect. It has repeatedly threatened to strangle the flow of Persian Gulf oil from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq and the UAE if the U.S. embargoes Iranian oil. But the presence of a potential motive does not amount to the presence of evidence, and the owner of the Japanese tanker is already contesting the U.S. explanations.

If Trump really wants to talk to Iran, here's what he should do

May 27, 2019


Amid the confusing signals US President Donald Trump has been sending in the past few weeks, he has managed to suggest to the world that he doesn’t have a strategy on Iran, that he isn’t on the same page as his hawkish national security advisor John Bolton, that he doesn’t want war and - perhaps most importantly - that he wants talks but doesn't know how to get the Iranians to pick up the phone.

In short, he’s doing everything wrong.

Trump’s “Genocidal” Tweets Against Iran Come With a Price

May 21, 2019


Donald Trump threatened to wipe Iran off the map in a moment of yet-to-be-explained Twitter-rage Sunday night. “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” he wrote. After a few days of apparent de-escalation between the US and Iran, Trump managed to once again fuel fears of an impending war. Yet, Trump’s tweet is likely more a reflection of his frustration over the failure of his pressure and coercion strategy than a carefully thought-through plan for war.

Trump's potential war with Iran is all John Bolton's doing. But it might also be his undoing

May 15, 2019


National security adviser John Bolton has reportedly requested that administration officials draw up plans to send 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East to counter Iran, sending shockwaves through Washington. Bolton, a key architect of the disastrous invasion of Iraq, has long gunned for war with Iran and seems intent on escalating tensions regardless of Tehran’s policies.

Trump's Iran terrorist designation is designed to lock in endless enmity

April 12, 2019


With the stroke of a pen, the Donald Trump administration declared more than 11 million Iranians – nearly one-seventh of the country’s population – terrorists. The unprecedented move to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization has rightfully raised concerns that the John Bolton-Mike Pompeo wing of the administration is pushing a clueless Trump closer to open conflict with Iran. But the greater risk is not the short-term impact of this reckless decision, but the way it will entrap future administrations – long after Trump has left the White House – in a no-win enmity with Iran.

Foreign Minister Zarif's risky gamble wins the Iran deal more time

March 04, 2019


Almost a week after Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif submitted his resignation over Instagram, it's become clear that Zarif made a high-risk gamble -- and it paid off handsomely. Calculating that both the public and many in the political elite would rally behind him, his wager compelled key Iranian leaders to renew their confidence in him.

And with the Iran nuclear deal facing existential challenges over the next few months, the boost for Zarif could not have come at a better time.

Democratic party elites silence Ilhan Omar at their peril (with Stephen Wertheim)

February 16, 2019

The Guardian

This week Democrats plunged into two controversies that portend danger for the party as the 2020 election season begins. Both centered on freshman representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who, not coincidentally, came to America as a Somali refugee and is now one of the two first Muslim women in Congress. Absent an open debate about the party’s values on foreign policy, Democrats are hurtling toward an election more divisive than the one in 2016.

Warsaw summit was a failure for Trump - but a win for Netanyahu

February 15, 2019

Middle East Eye

With a joint statement that did not even mention Iran, there is little doubt that the Trump administration's anti-Iran Warsaw summit was an abject failure - at least when measured against the objective of creating an anti-Iran alliance. That, however, does not mean that the summit wasn’t useful to some of its key supporters. Above all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands out as a clear winner of the failed summit.

America's Effort to Isolate Iran Will Backfire

February 12, 2019

The National Interest

As the celebrations of the fortieth anniversary of the Iranian revolution comes to an end in Tehran, Secretary Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton are busy gathering an anti-Iran coalition in Warsaw to crush Iran’s clerical rulers once and for all. But there is nothing innovative about the Pompeo-Bolton plan. In fact, Washington has been down this path numerous times before and it has invariably led to failure—even when much of the world was on America’s side. The question is not whether Bolton and Pompeo will succeed or not, but what they will push Donald Trump to do once their failure is clear for all to see.

Don’t Let Democrats Become the Party of War (with Stephen Wertheim)

February 04, 2019


This month, the president of the United States will meet for a second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Either the path toward peace for 75 million Koreans will advance, or it will reverse into recriminations and nuclear threats. In the coming months, too, the president may act on his desire to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from ill-conceived, open-ended missions in Syria and Afghanistan—or he will continue to keep them in harm’s way, with no strategy for victory in sight.

Beware the Foreign Regime Change Charlatans (with Sina Toossi)

January 24, 2019

The American Conservative

Bijan Kian, a business associate of President Donald Trump’s disgraced first national security advisor Michael Flynn, will likely soon go to jail for violating federal lobbying laws. Together with Flynn, Kian worked on behalf of the government of Turkey. But long before he was peddling Turkish interests, Kian was one of many in Washington taking advantage of America’s military might to settle his personal scores. In his case, he wanted revenge against the clerical regime in Iran.

Trump's international anti-Iran coalition looks like it's falling apart

December 05, 2018


What's this item about? What makes it interesting? Write a catchy description to grab your audience's attention...President Donald Trump set out to pick a fight with Iran from the early days of his administration. But a set of astonishing developments has pulled the rug out from under his feet, and the next three months will determine whether Trump will opt to escalate his provocations or find a face-saving exit from his bravado.

Hit Saudia Arabia With Your Pocketbook

November 10, 2018

The American Conservative

The brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi should shock all of us, but it should not have surprised anyone. In fact, it is just the latest chapter in the deeply unhealthy U.S.-Saudi lockstep relationship. As long as the Saudis kept oil prices in check, for decades the U.S. has turned a blind eye to Saudi human rights violations, its global exportation of Wahhabism, and even its sponsorship of terrorism that targeted the American homeland.

Is Trump’s Iran Policy Meant to Start a War?

October 15, 2018

The National Interest

Much indicates that the likely murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi will be transformative for Saudi-U.S. relations. But whether it will affect the one issue where Saudi pressure on the United States was the greatest—Iran—is unclear. The Iran strategy favored by Saudi Arabia and the Netanyahu government in Israel, and eagerly adopted by the White House, will likely lead to a military confrontation regardless of whether its assumptions about the status of Iran’s economy and political survivability are true or not.

The Ahvaz terror attack in Iran may drag the US into a larger war

September 22, 2018

Middle East Eye

Iran has been hit by yet another terrorist attack. At least 29 people were killed in the southwestern city of Ahvaz when gunmen opened fire on a crowd watching a military parade on Iran's equivalent of Memorial Day. But unlike previous terror attacks, this one may spark a much larger regional conflagration - involving not just regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also the United States. In fact, it may have been designed to trigger just that.

Why talking to Trump is a tricky thing for Iran

August 03, 2018

Middle East Eye

US President Donald Trump's offer of dialogue with Iran without preconditions - which was quickly walked back by his secretary of state - has put the ball in Iran's court once more. Many believe this is a golden opportunity for Tehran to stroke Trump's ego and divert him from his path of confrontation by simply giving him a symbolic victory. But for Tehran - unlike Trump's other bullying victims – making America look good is often the costliest concession that could be demanded of it.

Trump's offer to meet with Iran's President Rouhani won't get us a better deal

July 30, 2018


After withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and threatening Iranwith "consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before," President Trump announced on Monday that he wants to meet with President Rouhani without preconditions to craft a new deal.

Trump's Iran tweet may trap US in another war

July 25, 2018


The world has become so numb to the words of the President of the United States that it even dismisses threats of war as either a political distraction or a Trumpian negotiation tactic. Indeed, Donald Trump's threat to inflict on Iran "CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE" may very well have been an effort to divert attention from the Russia investigation. Others have dismissed the danger of the tweet since Trump did an about-face on North Korea, going from calling the North Korean dictator "rocket man" to a "very honorable" man. And, on Tuesday, Trump stated once again that he's "ready to make a deal" with Iran.

Why Trump’s Hawks Back the MEK Terrorist Cult

July 20, 2018

New York Review of Books

On July 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to address an Iranian-American audience at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. The speech is part of a deliberate policy of escalating tensions with Iran, targeting its economy and supporting Iranian opposition groups—all for the purpose of pressuring and destabilizing Iran. At least one member of an Iranian terrorist group that has killed American citizens will also be in attendance. But it won’t be to disrupt Pompeo’s speech; rather, to support it. In fact, the member is on the invitation list.

Iran is not North Korea: Trump's regional allies prefer civil war to peace

June 13, 2018

Middle East Eye

As US President Donald Trump returns from a successful photo-op in Singapore with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, his focus will soon return to Iran. Israel and Saudi Arabia have eagerly hoped that the Singapore summit would help neutralise the Korean issue so that Trump could turn all his energy towards Tehran.  Yet no one seems to know what Trump's Iran policy actually is. Is he looking for another deal? Is he paving the way for war? Is regime change the real goal? If Saudi Arabia and the UAE decide, it will be none of the above – it'll be much worse.

Why Trump’s Strategy for Iran Is Likely to Lead to War

May 23, 2018

The Nation

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech on May 21 only reinforced what was already known about Donald Trump’s strategy for Iran: Either the president is ratcheting up the pressure on Tehran to get a “better deal,” which is the official story and the gist of Pompeo’s message, or he is merely pretending to be interested in new negotiations, while putting into place the building blocks for a military assault on Iran. Yet even if Trump genuinely seeks new negotiations, he is more likely to end up in a war, because the very premise of Pompeo’s speech is false. That’s because more pressure on Iran would not have secured a better nuclear deal in 2015—it would only have led to war, or to a nuclear Iran.

Who Ordered Black Cube’s Dirty Tricks?

May 09, 2018

The New York Review of Books

I had no reason to be suspicious. I receive dozens of media requests a week and this one was no different. Last summer, I received an email from someone who said that he was a journalist—from an outlet I hadn’t heard of before—and that he wanted to ask a few questions about the Iran nuclear deal. At the time, my book on the subject, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy, had just appeared.

Trump Vindicates Iranian Hardliners And Victimizes Ordinary Citizens

May 08, 2018

Huffington Post

When the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was announced in 2015, the Iranian people poured into the streets to celebrate what they thought was the beginning of a new era. Long squeezed by both U.S. pressure and their own government, they had just cause for optimism. The threat of war was receding, and the sanctions that had stifled Iran’s economy were soon to be lifted. Many hoped that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ― vindicated by his success at the negotiating table ― would leverage his political capital and ease Iran’s harsh security environment at home.

The Tragedy of Bibi Netanyahu

May 02, 2018

The American Conservative

There is something tragic about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The harder he tries, the more he fails. That has been the case with many of his attempts to sabotage diplomacy with Iran and push the US to take military action against the country. And that was certainly the case with his underwhelming powerpoint presentation Monday. What was supposed to be a smoking gun to once and for all nix the Iran nuclear deal, inadvertently made a powerful case as to why the the deal must remain in place.

The End Of US National Interest

April 30, 2018


It was not even a month ago that Donald Trump signaled that he wanted to get U.S. troops out of Syria. “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home,” he said at a press conference. Two weeks later, Trump ordered missile attacks against the country. And now his UN ambassador says that the U.S. presence in Syria will remain indefinitely. What changed?

North Korea has shown how to play nuclear poker with Trump - Iran may follow suit

April 30, 2018


The negotiations leading to the Iran nuclear deal - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - were painstakingly detailed. Almost every eventuality was identified and planned for - except one: that the American people would elect as president a geopolitical novice hell-bent on erasing the legacy of his predecessor regardless of the implications for US national security.

Now, this unforeseen eventuality risks turning a central tenet of Iran's strategy - to regain the international community's confidence by fully adhering to the deal - into a liability.

War With Iran Won’t Be Iraq All Over Again. It’ll Be Much Worse.

March 30, 2018

Huffington Post

With John Bolton joining the White House as President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, risk of the U.S. going to war with Iran has increased to levels not seen since Dick Cheney was vice president.

Bolton and Cheney were both architects of the Iraq war, a war that Bolton publicly stands behind to this day. And Bolton has consistently advocated bombing Iran ― and even pressed United Nations Ambassador Nicki Haley to trigger a confrontation in order to kill the Iran nuclear deal. Bolton’s nomination has Americans rightly alarmed that we could soon be dragged into yet another quagmire in the Middle East.

Blame Trump If Iran Races for the Bomb

March 29, 2018


The nuclear deal with Iran hangs by a thread. The appointment of John Bolton — an unapologetic proponent of war with Iran — as U.S. national security advisor has prompted celebrations among Iran deal detractors. The announcement that nuclear talks with North Korea will be held around the same time that U.S. President Donald Trump must decide whether to keep or kill the Iran deal has further complicated the picture. Yet few in Washington understand how Trump’s gamble with Pyongyang may impact Tehran’s nuclear calculations.

Florida shooting reminds us of how Trump's Islamophobia is making Americans less safe

February 25, 2018

The Guardian

Last week’s horrific school shooting reminded us that Donald Trump has made America less safe. While mass shootings predate Trump, he has done something his predecessors did not: domestically, he’s shifted our focus towards immigrants and Muslims as threats, while willfully neglecting the threat posed by racists and rightwing extremists. Internationally, he’s imposed a Muslim ban that targets citizens of countries with no history of engaging in terrorism on US soil, at the expense of far more accurate predictors of violence.

Will the Israeli-Iranian Showdown Be in Syria — or New York?

February 15, 2018


In today’s Middle East, when parties look for a greater power to pressure regional actors not to escalate, they don’t turn to Washington. They turn to Moscow. With leverage over Israel, Iran, and Syria, Russia is in a unique position to stop the wider conflict that threatens to erupt — and particularly after a single day saw an Iranian drone reportedly penetrate deep into Israel, the downing of an Israeli F-16, and Israel’s massive bombardment of targets inside Syria. And although the military situation could yet spin out of control, there are reasons to believe that the fight may turn political instead.

January 13, 2018

Washington Post

Our strongest alliances now face a point of no return.For the past four decades, the United States and Iran have demonized each other to no end. According to Tehran, America is “the Great Satan” whose imperialist designs have destabilized the Middle East and brought nothing but misery to the people of the region. Washington, meanwhile, depicts Iran as the “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and a member of the “Axis of Evil” whose “evil hand” is behind every conflict in the region. But somewhere along the way, America’s and Iran’s knowledge about each other was edged out by myths. “Don’t know thy enemy” became the mantra. Here are some common American myths about Iran.

Our strongest alliances now face a point of no return.

A key decision by the US president is due by Friday, and could put his country on an almost inevitable path towards more conflict in the Middle East

Trump’s threats to kill the nuclear deal have inhibited investment, leading to continued economic distress—but it was the Iranian government’s leaked budget that enraged the public.

In a matter of days, protests in Iran have quickly spread across the country, taking the government by surprise and leaving analysts and pundits alike confused. Part of the reason many have been caught off guard is because these protests appear quite different from their 2009 predecessor -- in terms of size, leadership and objective.

November 30, 2017

The Huffington Post

Pompeo and Cotton are close ideological allies on foreign policy and can do untold damage to U.S. national security.

November 15, 2017

The National Interest

Many observers have connected the dots and concluded that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is seeking to drag the United States into a war with Iran and Hezbollah. But that’s only half the story. Looking at the recent events through a broader geopolitical lens, a much more sinister plan emerges: a Saudi plan to trap the United States in a permanent standoff with Tehran.

October 12, 2017

The Huffington Post

Make no mistake: We do not have a crisis over the Iran nuclear deal. It is working and everyone from Secretary Mattis and Tillerson to the US and Israeli intelligence services to the International Atomic Energy Agency agree: Iran is adhering to the deal. But Trump is about to take a working deal and turn it into a crisis ― an international crisis that very likely can lead to war. While the decertification of the Iran deal that Trump is scheduled to announce on Friday in and of itself doesn’t collapse the deal, it does trigger a process that increases the risk of war in the following five ways.

It's still unclear whether Donald Trump's expected decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal will lead to the total collapse of the agreement. But the truth is that decertification is only half the story. The bigger threat to the deal is Trump's apparent intention to ratchet up pressure in the region on Tehran. Doing so risks not only scuppering the agreement, but putting the United States and Iran on a collision course that could result in outright conflict.