Donald Trump is, piece by piece, undoing much of the legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The latest example was his decision last week to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, but he’s also repealed many rules and executive orders enacted during the prior administration. Trump is able to erase so much of Obama’s legacy only because Obama enacted much of it with his pen and his phone, rather than with the support of Congress. It may be tempting for presidents to wield their executive power to their fullest to enact an agenda, but Trump is providing a vivid illustration of the risk of this strategy.

In the case of the Iran nuclear deal, it must be remembered that there was widespread, bipartisan opposition to it in Congress. It would have been difficult to get 51 votes for it in the U.S. Senate, let alone the 67 votes required to ratify a treaty. So, Obama decided to go it alone, signing it as an international agreement rather than making it a formal treaty. Under international law, and to most other countries, the agreement had the same force as a treaty would have.

However, under U.S. law, it’s on much shakier ground. Without the approval of Congress as a formal treaty, it’s never enacted into domestic law and it can be undone by any future president. In the case of the Iran deal (formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), the withdrawal of the U.S. doesn’t formally kill the agreement, as it’s a multilateral agreement including other nations as well.

Ever since it was signed, the JCPOA was attacked by critics on both sides of the aisle, and rightly so: It’s a bad deal that Obama never should have agreed to in the first place. The deal gave Iran plenty of time to slowly wind down its nuclear activities, over the course of 10 years or more, while providing relief from sanctions – including the immediate unfreezing of assets held overseas. The JCPOA did limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities (in theory), but only for a certain time, as most of those limitations had sunset provisions.

So, Iran could comply with the agreement for 10 years, reducing its nuclear program. In return, it would gain enormous financial flexibility without entirely forfeiting its ability to make nuclear weapons. The agreement would not serve to ensure that Iran never gained nuclear capability; instead, it would only slow down the country’s program. Because the JCPOA lifted sanctions but addressed only nuclear programs, it gave the regime a free pass on a whole host of other issues, and made it less likely that it would be willing to negotiate in other areas in the future.

By withdrawing from the flawed deal signed by Obama and reimposing the sanctions that had been lifted, Trump has regained our leverage over the regime in Tehran. If we return to the negotiating table with them, we can use our status as one of the largest economies in the world to force their hand on their nuclear program or other important issues.

Iran’s economy has been crashing of late, even with the relief from the sanctions, and that’s been increasing instability in the nation – as evidenced by the recent wave of protests. Being cut off again from trade with the U.S. could undermine the entire Iranian government, leading to more protests and putting them in an increasingly precarious position. That could force them to agree to a real deal that results in the dismantling of their nuclear weapons program, rather than simply slowing it down.

Withdrawing from the agreement also sends an important message to another serious foe: North Korea. In previous years, North Korea has used a period of saber-rattling to bring the U.S. and its allies to the table. Just as Iran did with this deal, they were then able to negotiate economic relief in exchange for a short-term curtailment of their weapons program. Trump’s decision on the Iran deal makes it clear to Pyongyang that he won’t play those games any longer.

Trump’s willingness to engage in diplomacy with North Korea has already yielded positive results, as three American prisoners were released by the regime. Even if no further progress is made during the upcoming summit between the two leaders, that alone is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Hopefully, though, Trump’s strategy succeeds and North Korea sees the wisdom of moving toward a new, more prosperous future without a nuclear weapons arsenal.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel

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