After spending much of his presidency insulting and pushing away the closest US allies, President Donald Trump now wants their help with Iran. But, in many ways, they've already abandoned him.
The president has repeatedly found himself at odds with US allies on both the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and NATO, but on Wednesday called on them for assistance with regard to both.
Recent moves by NATO and the UK, among others, suggest Trump will come up short.
Though it was Trump's order to kill Iran's top general that pushed the country to the precipice of conflict with the US in the past week, the roots of the recent tensions can be traced back to his withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Leaders in the UK, France and NATO have all distanced themselves from Trump's killing of Soleimani.
“The US has a much weaker relationship with allies across the region and in Europe than we did before — and that's a real problem,” Ian Bremmer, president and founder at Eurasia Group, told Insider over the phone on Tuesday.
“The French should be with us, they're not,” Bremmer added. “The Europeans aren't with us…because we pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal against all of their interests, by ourself, and that's what created all the escalation to begin with.”
Trump steps away from potential war with Iran, while calling on allies for help
Trump stepped away from the brink of war with Iran on Wednesday, but in the process also ramped up his “maximum pressure” campaign of economic isolation against Tehran. He announced new sanctions against Iran in retaliation for the missile strike on US and coalition forces in Iraq.
Trump effectively asked US allies to endorse this approach by simultaneously calling on them to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the 2015 nuclear deal.
“As long as I am President of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said in a speech to the nation.
“The very defective JCPOA expires shortly anyway, and gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout,” Trump said. “Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognize this reality.”
Trump's remarks offered a misleading picture of the nature of the JCPOA, which was designed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and it's not accurate to say the deal “expires shortly.” It does have sunset clauses, but there are years before any of the provisions expire.
Nonetheless, the president wants the rest of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the US, UK, France, China, and Russia) and Germany (collectively known as P5+1) to step away from the 2015 nuclear deal he withdrew the US from in May 2018.
“They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal — or JCPOA –- and we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place,” Trump said on Wednesday. “We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper, and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential. Iran can be a great country.”
But Trump was already alone in pulling the US from the landmark pact.
He was criticized by France, Germany, and the UK over the unilateral move, and the rest of the signatories have scrambled to save the deal in the wake of his divisive decision.
—Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) May 8, 2018
'The JCPOA remains the best way of preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran'
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is perhaps the only leader of a traditional US ally who has been on fairly stable terms with Trump, but as even recently as Wednesday morning the UK leader said JCPOA is the “best way” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“It is our view that the JCPOA remains the best way of preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran, the best way of encouraging the Iranians not to develop a nuclear weapon,” Johnson told the British parliament.
“We think that after this crisis has abated, which of course we sincerely hope it will, that way forward will remain,” Johnson added. “It is a shell that has currently been voided but it remains a shell into which we can put substance again.”
Iran also does not have many incentives to negotiate a new deal with the US, even with the other countries involved, particularly given Trump's announcement of new sanctions on Wednesday. This came after Iran withdrew from the nuclear deal over the weekend, while stating that it would be open to return to the pact if sanctions were lifted.
China and Russia, historic US adversaries and Iranian allies, may also be unwilling to cooperate with Trump's demands on the nuclear deal.
Trump: 'I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process'
Meanwhile, Trump on Wednesday also called on NATO to play a bigger role in the Middle East.
“Today, I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process,” the president said in his Wednesday speech.
—CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 8, 2020
But Trump has spent three years bashing NATO allies over defense spending. He's made misleading comments about how NATO is funded, described it as “obsolete,” and has even reportedly threatened to withdraw from the alliance.
Consequently, there have been many signs that America's influence within and over NATO is waning — including a video that appeared to show world leaders mocking Trump at NATO summit in London last month.
On Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declined to offer a firm answer on whether the alliance would come to the US's defense under its mutual-defense clause if Iran attacked. When asked about it at a press conference in Brussels on Monday, Stoltenberg said that commenting on the matter would “not help to de-escalate,” Bloomberg reported.
Moreover, NATO has already sacrificed much in the course of the US government's so-called “war on terror.” The only time Article 5, the alliance's core principle of mutual defense, has been invoked was after the 9/11 terror attacks. NATO troops were deployed to Afghanistan, and have also assisted the US-led coalition in the fight against ISIS.
But in the aftermath of Trump's deadly strike on Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, NATO began withdrawing some forces from Iraq, signaling it does not want to be caught in the crossfire of messes being fueled by the US.
These years spent pushing US friends away has given them some pause — even when trouble is at the door.