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Monday, November 12, 2018

The likelihood that Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal for principled or pragmatic reasons is vanishingly small, since he seems to know very little about the agreement. His own defense secretary, who understands the deal very well, advised him that it continues to serve our national security interests. Many observers suspect Trump is merely acting out his neurotic anger against Barack Obama.

However petty Trump’s personal motivations may be, the grave consequences of his action are clear. By breaking an agreement so recently signed by the United States, he will further diminish American credibility on the international stage. By rejecting the entreaties of our European allies — and threatening sanctions against European companies — he will further strain those vital relationships. And by violating the terms of a disarmament plan negotiated with a rogue state, he will weaken any nuclear deal he may eventually reach with the North Korean regime.

So instead of improving American security or benefiting the United States in any way, this ill-conceived announcement instead harms our prospects. Abrogating the deal is already driving up oil prices and may well raise the possibility of another terrible war

Yet there is one state that will quietly applaud Trump’s fateful mistake, the same state that has profited from all his diplomatic fumbling: the Russian Federation.

Like so many stupid, destructive policies foisted on us by this White House — from steel tariffs and anti-Muslim immigration bans to the ruinous assault on the State Department, the FBI, and the intelligence community — Trump’s latest decision seems designed to advance the Kremlin’s agenda.

In theory, of course, the Russians should have wished the U.S. to remain in the deal, since Russia was one of the six international partners (along with China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany) that negotiated its terms with Iran. And it is true that Russian diplomats at the United Nations and elsewhere delivered a few pro forma admonitions urging the Trump administration to continue the agreement.

Unlike the major European heads of state, however, Vladimir Putin made no real attempt to persuade Trump. The effort to save the deal by the leaders of France, Germany, and Britain was extraordinarily open and creative, almost heroic. Meanwhile, the Russian leader had a perfect opportunity to make his own argument when the US president, against explicit instructions, offered congratulations on Putin’s phony re-election. But he said nothing.

Just days before Trump announced his decision, a top official in the Russian foreign ministry gave away the game when he practically welcomed a U.S. withdrawal. Vladimir Yermakov, the director-general of the ministry’s non-proliferation bureau, not only assured reporters that the Iran deal would continue without the U.S. but gloated: “It might even be easier for us on the economic front, because we won’t have any limits on economic cooperation with Iran. We would develop bilateral relations in all areas — energy, transport, high tech, medicine…”

In short, the Russians plan to rush in where the United States could be doing business — and will have no competition, thanks to that brilliant dealmaker Donald Trump.

Such a bad diplomatic result for his own country is strikingly reminiscent of what Trump has achieved in Cuba — another traditional site of Cold War confrontation where Russian deal-making (and perhaps mischief-making) can accelerate while the stripped-down American embassy sits almost idle. Still only 90 miles from Florida, the island could again become a staging area for Kremlin espionage and influence missions in this hemisphere — including our country.

If Trump didn’t always wrap himself in the flag, proclaim that he’s a nationalist, and constantly bellow “America First,” somebody might begin to wonder why so much of what he is doing benefits only our principal adversary — and inflicts permanent damage on our own country.