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The Clock Is Ticking for the Iran Deal

Will Donald Trump sign the waiver on the Iran nuclear deal one more time?

Amidst the turmoil of Donald Trump’s White House, uncertainty reigns over what this most unpredictable, irascible and ignorant of presidents will do about the Iran nuclear deal. He is due to sign the next waiver on May 12.

If his comments about the last time he signed are any indication to go by, then it is unlikely that he will put his skyscraper of a signature on the latest waiver. On January 12, he groused, “Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies’ agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal,” adding, “This is a last chance.”

What Trump demanded — that Iranian missile programs be linked to the nuclear deal and “subject to severe sanctions” — is precisely the terms that Iran will emphatically reject. Will he then carry through on his threat to pull out of the deal?

Trying to anticipate anything that Trump will do, other than to acknowledge that on a daily basis he gets his news fix from Fox and tweets impulsively and compulsively on what the news network’s hugely biased presenters have to say, is a bit of a fool’s game.

So, having said that, let me play the fool. Donald Trump is in the grip of the worst crisis his crisis-ridden administration has yet faced. Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer, had his offices, home and hotel room raided by the FBI on April 9 in relation to hush money paid by Cohen to a porn star, who has alleged that Trump had an affair with her. The details of that story and an allegation by another woman are not really important.

What is important, what counts and what damages Trump most is that Cohen is his self-described attack dog, his fixer, his consigliere. Or as the man himself put it, “I’m the guy who protects the president and the family. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.”

Cohen added: “If somebody does something Mr Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr Trump’s benefit. If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.” Charming.

And now the fixer is himself in a spot of serious bother, which leaves Donald Trump very exposed. Because Michael Cohen, in order to avoid what could be a very long jail term, may just decide that he is, after all, not the guy to take the bullet. He may decide to cooperate with the Mueller investigation to, as they say, flip.

Trump’s threats to fire special investigator Robert Mueller, repeated in his rant after the raid on Cohen, shows just how rattled the president is. And, oh glory, it has finally stirred some Republicans out of their moral torpor. There is now serious talk within the GOP about passing legislation to protect Mueller and his investigation into Russian involvement in Trump’s campaign and in the presidential election. As senior Republican Chuck Grassley succinctly put in, “[To fire Mueller] would be suicide.” And not, one suspects, just for the president but for the party he so ineptly leads as it heads into November’s midterm election.

Meanwhile, Trump has stirred up a potential trade war with China, even as departures from his administration continue at an astonishing rate. And he is beset again with what to do about Syria. The launch of strikes on three alleged chemical weapons sites in April has done little to convince his critics, many of them his own conservative allies, that he has any clear policy in place beyond wanting to pull American troops out.

Though he was successful in achieving some European buy in by bringing France and the UK on board, the raid itself appears to have achieved little. Indeed, some commentators have argued that it only served to strengthen Bashar al-Assad’s hand. Trump’s promise to deliver hard retribution to the Syrian dictator has morphed into the now familiar exercise of POTUS braggadocio: “Mission Accomplished.”

Neither France or the UK (nor Germany) wants to see America walk away from the Iran nuclear deal. So, it may be that they hoped to curry some favor, gain some political capital by joining Trump. If so they may be disappointed.

The president’s new national security advisor, John Bolton, detests both the Europeans and the Iranians, so he will lobby hard for Trump to make good on his threat to decertify the deal. But John Kelly, the man charged with trying to bring some semblance of order to Trump’s court of chaos, is a decorated general. He knows about fighting wars on multiple fronts. As he surveys the many fronts on which the president is assailed, Kelly’s may be the voice of quiet sanity that urges Trump to sign the waiver this time — with as much ill-grace as the president wants to display. The general will advise him to wait until the next opportunity to refuse to sign comes around in three months’ time. At which point, Kelly, if he is still around, may be inclined to let this petulant child of a president have his way.

By then, it is anybody’s guess where the crippled zeppelin that is the Trump administration will have drifted or whether, in fact, it will have simply gone down in a spectacular act of self-immolation brought about by the firing of Robert Mueller.

So, my prediction is that on May 12, Trump will, with boorish threats and grandiose rudeness, sign the waiver one more time.

*[An earlier version of this article was published by Gulf House.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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