Hillary Clinton is now complaining that President Trump has broken America’s word with his policy on the Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA. For reasons I will explain below, this is a subject on which she should really be silent.
Trump has refused to certify to Congress that Iran is fully and verifiably complying with the deal or that the deal is in America’s national security interest. In doing so he follows U.S. law, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). And Trump has said that if improvements in the JCPOA are impossible to achieve, he may renounce the agreement entirely.
Speaking on the Fareed Zakaria GPS show on CNN this past weekend about Trump’s decision, Clinton said that “First of all, it basically says America's word is not good.” She said Trump "is upending the kind of trust and credibility of the United States' position and negotiation that is imperative to maintain."
But that is exactly and precisely what Clinton, and Obama, did in 2009 in the face of another agreement by the preceding president.
In 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that Israel would remove some or all settlements in Gaza. President George W. Bush fully supported that decision, and continued the support during 2004 and 2005, when Sharon faced tough opposition to it in Israel.
On April 14, 2004, Mr. Bush gave Mr. Sharon a letter saying that "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." Previous administrations had declared that Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 lines, often called the "1967 borders," were illegal. Mr. Bush now said that in any realistic peace agreement Israel would be able to negotiate the retention of some of those settlements.
Moreover, Bush had negotiated with Israel on the question of settlement expansion. Four days after the president's letter to Sharon, Sharon's Chief of Staff Dov Weissglas wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that "I wish to reconfirm the following understanding, which had been reached between us: 1. Restrictions on settlement growth: within the agreed principles of settlement activities, an effort will be made in the next few days to have a better definition of the construction line of settlements in Judea & Samaria."
What were the “agreed principles?” Sharon had stated those limits clearly and publicly in December 2003: "Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements."
Where did those four principles come from? They were the product of discussions and negotiations between Israeli and American officials and had been discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush as early as their meeting in Aqaba, Jordan in June 2003.
So: there were negotiations, there were face to face discussions between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, Sharon mentioned the exact agreed principles in speeches, and Bush wrote a letter mentioning the new American view. What’s more, Congress voted by overwhelming majorities to support Bush in all this, by lopsided margins: 95 to 3 in the Senate on June 23, 2004 and 407 to 9 in the House of Representatives on June 24.
And then the Obama administration arrived in office, and simply denied that any agreement on settlements existed. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton said on June 17, 2009 that "in looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements." Marvin Kalb, the long-time CBS newsman, wrote in his book The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed that “Obama’s new secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, put a nail [in the coffin of] the Bush-Sharon exchange of letters by immediately making it clear that the Obama administration wanted no part of them.”
Clinton, and Obama, simply decided to ignore commitments made, orally and in writing, to another government and then endorsed by both Houses of Congress. Now along comes Clinton to claim that President Trump, by following the INARA legislation, “basically says America's word is not good” and that he "is upending the kind of trust and credibility of the United States' position.”
The double standard here is perhaps not shocking, but nevertheless deserves note. It seems that to Mrs. Clinton, some agreements are sacrosanct while others may be cavalierly ignored and dismissed—and the distinction between the two types is that she likes some and doesn’t like others. It is her standard that will surely “upend the trust and credibility” of the United States ( to use her language).
As to Mr. Trump’s recent decision, how it can be said that he is harming American credibility by following U.S. law, the INARA legislation, escapes me. In fact, there was every expectation that the Obama administration would follow the Bush agreement with Israel, given its almost unanimous support in Congress. By contrast, the JCPOA had zero Republican support in Congress and the 2016 Republican Platform stated that “We consider the Administration’s deal with Iran, to lift international sanctions and make hundreds of billions of dollars available to the Mullahs, a personal agreement between the President and his negotiating partners and non-binding on the next president….A Republican president will not be bound by it.”
No surprises here when that is exactly what happens. Mrs. Clinton's criticism is unfair, especially given her own track record.