Was leaving the Iran deal a good idea?

It's now been two years since Donald Trump announced US withdrawal from what he called the "horrible one-sided" Iran nuclear deal.

The pact, brokered in 2015 by the Obama administration along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the Iranians, aimed to limit Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, in exchange for the repeal of some US and international economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.


Trump – along with many US conservatives and the Israeli government – argued that the deal was a dangerous failure because it didn't impose strict enough limits on Iran's nuclear program and because sanctions relief boosted Tehran's ability to make trouble in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.

Though Washington walked, the other signatories (outside Iran) have continued to abide by the deal's terms – Europe, in particular, has done its best to offer Iran economic and financial incentives to keep Tehran from pulling out altogether.

So, has Washington's withdrawal achieved its purpose? Depends on what the move was really meant to accomplish. Let's go down the list.

Stopping Iran's nuclear weapons progress. With the US out, Iran has stopped adhering to the deal's guidelines on uranium enrichment. Over the past six months, Iran has (at least) tripled its stockpiles of enriched uranium, according to the UN. It has also conducted several new missile tests and recently launched a satellite, a move that the Pentagon sees as potential cover for testing long-range ballistic missiles.

Clipping Iran's wings in the Middle East by crippling its economy. US sanctions on Iran's oil exports and financial transactions have devastated Iran's economy – after soaring by 12.5 percent in the wake of the deal, the country's GDP has shrunk 13 percent since. And low oil prices aren't helping.

But over the past two years, Tehran has harassed oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, shot down a US drone, and increased its proxy attacks on US troops in the region. Don't forget the strike on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq oil facility, carried out either by Iran itself or its proxies in Yemen. That attack briefly knocked 5 percent of the world's oil production offline last September. Tehran is still a dominant player in Iraq, even if that country's new prime minister wants to limit Iran's direct influence. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad remains Iran's Man in Damascus (or at least, a time-share with Russia). And Iran-backed Hezbollah still has formidable power in Lebanon, despite recent anti-government protests.

In sum, Iran is certainly operating with less money and more domestic economic pressures than before — but sanctions haven't blunted Iran's regional ambitions.

Scrapping an Obama achievement. President Trump made good on a campaign promise to blow up one of his predecessor's few tangible foreign-policy achievements. But hopes that intense new pressure on Iran would force its leaders to accept a tougher deal, one with Trump's name on it, have (so far) been dashed. Tehran will certainly be watching closely to see if Trump can win re-election in November.

Pressuring the regime politically. This is harder to judge. Over the past two years, Iran's streets have erupted with massive protests over economic issues, corruption, and the downing of a Ukrainian airliner. Each time, the US has encouraged the protesters, while Iranian authorities have cracked down and weathered the storm. For now, Iran's particularly bad coronavirus outbreak has limited protesters' willingness to hit the streets.

In some ways the US pressure campaign has emboldened Iran's hardline clerics and military leaders, who never wanted to compromise on Iran's nuclear program in the first place and are happy with a more isolated economy that they can better control and exploit. That makes any new deal less likely.

Still, it remains to be seen whether a regime struggling to balance economic collapse, a public health crisis, and a web of foreign entanglements can continue to hold up, and for how long.

Paper was originally made from rags until the introduction of cellulose in 1800. Since then, it has transformed into a "circular" industry, with 55% of paper produced in Italy recovered. It no longer just comes from trees, either. Some companies produce paper with scraps from the processing of other products like wool and walnuts.

Learn more about this rags to riches story in Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

In late 2017, Zimbabwe's long-serving strongman Robert Mugabe was deposed by the army after 37 years in power. Amid huge popular celebrations, he handed over the reins to Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former spy chief. It was an extraordinary turn of history: Mugabe, one of Africa's last "Big Men" and a hero of the country's liberation war to end white minority rule, went out with barely a whimper, placing Zimbabwe — stricken by economic ruin and international isolation — in the hands of "The Crocodile."

Mugabe has since died, but almost three years after his departure, Zimbabwe's woes continue.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, we are in August, summer, should be taking it a little easier. Coronavirus not taking the stress levels off but hopefully giving people the excuse, if you're not traveling so much, be close with your families, your loved ones and all that. Look, this is not a philosophical conversation, this is a talk about what's happening in the world, a little Quick Take for you.

First of all, you know, I'm getting a little bit more optimistic about the news in the United States right now. Yes, honestly, I am. In part because the caseload is flattening across the country and it's reducing in some of the core states that have seen the greatest explosion in this continuation of the first wave. Yes, the deaths are going up and they should continue to for a couple of weeks because it is a lagging indicator in the United States. But the fact that deaths are going up does not say anything about what's coming in the next few weeks. That tells you what's happened in the last couple of weeks.

More Show less

TikTok, ya don't stop: The wildly popular video app TikTok has been in the crosshairs of American lawmakers for many months now. Why? Because the app is owned by a Chinese company, raising national security concerns that it could funnel personal data on its 100 million American users to the Chinese government. The plot thickened in recent days after President Trump abruptly threatened to ban the app altogether, risking a backlash among its users and imperiling US tech giant Microsoft's efforts to buy the company's North American operations. After a weekend conversation between Microsoft and the White House, the sale negotiations are back on but US lawmakers say any deal must strictly prevent American users' data from winding up in Chinese Communist Party servers. The broader fate of TikTok — which has now been banned in India, formerly its largest market, and may be broken up under US pressure — nicely illustrates the new "tech Cold War" that is emerging between China and the United States. A Microsoft/TikTok deal is expected by September 15. Tick..Tock.

More Show less

Donald Trump can still win re-election in November, but foreign governments read the same polls we do. They know that Joe Biden heads into the homestretch with a sizeable polling lead — both nationally and in the states most likely to decide the outcome. Naturally, they're thinking ahead to what a Biden foreign policy might look like.

They're probably glad that Biden gives them a half-century track record to study. (He was first elected to local office in 1970 and to the US Senate in 1972.) The six years he spent as ranking member, then chairman, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his term as co-chairman of the Senate's NATO Observer Group, and his eight years as Barack Obama's vice president tell them that he's essentially a "liberal internationalist," a person who believes that America must lead a global advance of democracy and freedom — and that close cooperation with allies is essential for success.

More Show less