President Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal ranks as his most reckless policy move yet. It is also his biggest triumph so far in his continuing bid to reverse or shatter every one of his nemesis-predecessor’s major accomplishments, regardless of the consequences.
And there will be consequences. Some may turn out to be rather narrow, while others could have a global impact. Some may emerge as the direct result of US actions, while others will depend on how other governments and nongovernmental actors respond. Life will almost certainly become more difficult for ordinary Iranians, who are still coping with crippling US-imposed economic sanctions unrelated to the nuclear deal.
The worst outcome, of course, would be a full-scale regional or even global war. Such a conflict could even lead to the unthinkable: the use of nuclear weapons by one of several nuclear-weapons states. (That list, we should remember, does not include Iran.) And while war is certainly not inevitable, we need to recognize that there are many ways in which one could come about. One of the most commonly discussed could result from an Iranian decision to respond in kind to Trump’s violation of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
But first it must be emphasized that virtually all intelligence and nonproliferation agencies in the world—from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, to all 16 US intelligence agencies, the intelligence communities of all the signatories to the deal, and even top Israeli military officials—agree (grudgingly or not) that Iran has complied with the JCPOA. Trump’s claims all had to do with what he asserted were the insufficiencies of the JCPOA’s terms, not that Iran had violated those terms.