President Donald Trump has, at almost every turn, defied experts on Iran policy to take a very aggressive track against Tehran.
Despite this, Trump has yet to suffer a single tangible consequence or any of the nightmare scenarios that President Barack Obama warned against.
Under Trump, the US has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, a move Obama officials warned could send the country sprinting toward a nuclear weapon. Iran remains in compliance with the deal today.
Trump’s White House plans to sanction Iran’s oil exports in November, and despite warnings of oil prices spiking or European firms picking Tehran over Washington, oil prices are steady and even India, a longtime client of Iran’s, has cut ties.
Despite the pain Iran took from Trump’s sanctions, experts contacted by Business Insider expect it to remain in the deal. They say the country has few remaining economic lifelines, and publicly breaching the deal to go nuclear could snuff out the remaining embers.
The US military in Syria has repeatedly and stiffly beaten back Iranian and Iranian-linked forces when challenged.
Under Obama, the US sought to give Iran a wide berth in Syria as it worked behind the scenes to reach the Iran nuclear deal. In the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway outside Iran, Iranian ships would frequently harass and threaten US Navy ships. Under Trump, Iran has stopped these provocations.
“The president is doing the opposite of what the experts said, and it seems to be working out,” Michael Lynch, the president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research, told The New York Times.
Iran is struggling, and the US is fine
Since Trump took office, Iran has weathered a series of withering economic and military setbacks.
While Iran remains in the deal that sought to relieve the sanctions burden on its oil exports, it has lost out hugely as international businesses overwhelmingly choose not to provoke Trump’s ire by buying Iranian oil.
Iran’s military, mostly at Israel’s hands, has been repeatedly and fiercely targeted by airstrikes, to which it offered limited responses. While the US and much of the world dread the prospect of a nuclear Iran, Israel has made it clear that it intends to take direct and swift military action to destroy the nuclear capabilities of regional rivals like Iran.
The US has arguably damaged its international reputation and relations with European partners in pulling out of the deal, but it’s unclear whether this has done any tangible damage to US businesses.
Arms-control experts widely argued that the withdrawal from the Iran deal would show North Korea that diplomacy with the US was pointless, but relations between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appear almost entirely based on mutual good faith at this point.
Trump is breaking all of Obama’s rules and coming out on top
As Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry spent the years before the Iran deal traveling Europe asking banks to do business with Iran, a country the US designates a state sponsor of terror.
When Trump entered office, Kerry continued his work to help Iranian business in private meetings with officials in the country.
Kerry and Obama sought to have Iran integrated in the world economy as a key part of their signature foreign-policy achievement, and it appears not to have worked.
Of course, Trump benefits from having the nuclear deal in place, which curbs Iran’s ability to either saber rattle or actually pursue a bomb. Iran’s poor business climate, human-rights record, and internal strife have also scared off businesses that may have in principle wanted to transact with Tehran, aiding Trump’s crackdown.
Obama officials argued that the nuclear deal sought to address the narrow issue of nuclear proliferation and nothing else, mostly leaving US detainees, Iran’s regional military ambitions, and Iran’s open threats to Israel out of negotiations.
But under Trump, the US has addressed all of its grievances with Iran, including the country’s funding of terrorism, the escalating fighting in Syria, its missile tests, and even its oppression of its own people, all while Tehran stays in the deal.