0947 GMT July 22, 2018
Sound familiar? It should. This is the same kind of gesture toward a better, smarter deal that Mr. Trump made when he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, the same sort of empty promise he made in saying he would supply plans for Middle East peace and better, cheaper, more accessible health care. So far, again and again, he has shown himself to be adept at destroying agreements — a relatively easy task for a president — and utterly lacking in the policy depth or strategic vision and patience to create new ones.
When it comes to the danger of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, there is no sign Iran or any of the other major powers in the existing and so far successful pact will simply fall in line with Mr. Trump’s notional new plan. More likely, his decision, announced on Tuesday, will allow Iran to resume a robust nuclear program, sour relations with close European allies, erode America’s credibility, lay conditions for a possible wider war in the Middle East and make it harder to reach a sound agreement with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program.
In other words, par for the course. This man who, apparently because of one book and a reality television show, has a reputation as a deal maker despite a skein of bankruptcies and lawsuits, has been piling up quite a record of scuttled agreements that he suggests “never, ever should have been made” and broken promises for a “better deal.”
Consider the Paris agreement, approved by President Barack Obama in 2016. Mr. Trump labeled it a “con job” that is unfair to the United States, and in June he declared his intention to withdraw from it. Mr. Trump suggested he was open to renegotiating this voluntary agreement but has done nothing about it. Meanwhile his administration is chipping away at environmental protections through deregulation even as the nearly 200 countries that signed the deal remain committed to it.
Or take DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also established by Mr. Obama. It provides temporary work permits and reprieves from deportation for about 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Mr. Trump ended it but said he was open to fixing it. But he hasn’t, ordering instead a crackdown by federal immigration agents that has torn countless families apart and left millions of other undocumented people in limbo.
Similarly, the southern border wall, the centerpiece of his presidential campaign that was supposed to be paid for by Mexico, is more mirage than reality — and whatever parts are being built are being paid for by America.
He promised a better deal on health care, with cheaper costs and universal coverage. He never proposed one. Instead, after Congress failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he attacked it administratively, increasing the number of people without insurance and raising premiums.
One of his first moves in office was to withdraw from the United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he had called “a rape of our country.” Last month he raised the possibility of rejoining it but then stepped back again.
Then there is Nafta, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the United States, Mexico and Canada have been unable to agree on amending after months of negotiations.
As for China, which Mr. Trump promised to browbeat into offering trade concessions, recent negotiations ended with few signs of progress toward avoiding a trade war.
The one agreement on which he forced new negotiations and seems to have scored modest success is the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea. Even so, the president has suggested he might delay finalizing the pact because it gives him a card to play, presumably with Seoul, while negotiating with North Korea over its nuclear program.
Mr. Trump often seems to be consumed with overturning the legacies of his predecessor, but few of the agreements so stoked his disdain as the Iran nuclear deal, Mr. Obama’s signature diplomatic achievement. Signed in 2015 by five major powers as well as the United States and Iran, it committed Iran to significantly curtailing its nuclear program in return for a lifting of sanctions.
International inspectors along with American and Israeli intelligence and security officials have repeatedly judged that Iran is abiding by its obligations. That doesn’t matter to Mr. Trump, allied with the anti-Iran hard-liners in his administration, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who all seem to believe their problems with Iran can best be solved by driving out the regime through economic crisis or military action.
Ahead of his decision on Tuesday to impose the “highest level of economic sanctions” on foreign countries doing business in Iran, Mr. Trump put the onus on France, Germany and Britain to address what he considered “flaws” in the accord. For months the Europeans argued this could be done in a side agreement, while keeping the nuclear deal intact, but the effort ultimately collapsed because of Mr. Trump’s insistence on reopening the accord itself. It’s doubtful that Mr. Trump was ever serious about finding a compromise. The Europeans and Iranians, who say they will continue adhering to the deal, hope to manage the fallout, but despite his assurance that he is “ready, willing and able” to negotiate a new agreement, Mr. Trump has no obvious Plan B, except ratcheting up the pressure on Iran.
It seems an oddly dissonant and counterproductive message as Mr. Trump has shifted from warmongering to diplomacy on North Korea and prepares to meet its leader, Kim Jong-un, to get him to abandon his nuclear program, with an arsenal of 20 to 60 weapons.
And why should the North Koreans now believe the Americans, over the long haul, will honor a deal any president strikes?
While the stakes with Iran are high, with North Korea they are even higher. Will that be another deal too far for Mr. Trump?
The above was written by the editorial board of The New York Times.