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Scrapping the Iran deal and North Korea summit harms U.S. credibility

Activists gather in front of the U.S. embassy to demand peace for the Korean peninsula after the cancellation of the U.S. and North Korea summit on May 25, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea.
Activists gather in front of the U.S. embassy in Seoul, South Korea, to demand peace after the cancellation of the U.S.–North Korea summit, on May 25, 2018. Photo: Chung Sung-Jun via Getty Images

In the span of a month, President Trump has managed to create two nuclear crises. First, he walked away from the Iran nuclear deal, and then he scrapped the North Korea summit. Now, the world faces both the prospect of Iran restarting its nuclear program and the far-more menacing threat of a full-blown nuclear-capable North Korea.

The big picture: Gone is American credibility to manage complex global issues. In fact, rather than acting as the bulwark against dangers to world order, the U.S. is now seen as the country inflaming them.

Ironically, given how Trump has handled the two cases, the sympathy of our allies and the broader international community lies with Iran and North Korea. He has alienated U.S. allies just when he needs them most, to the benefit of geopolitical rivals: Much to Russia's delight, the demise of the Iran deal has created a rift between the U.S. and its European allies, while the collapse of the Trump–Kim summit has put the U.S. at odds with South Korea, which suits China.

The administration’s strategy can be boiled down to the hope that “maximum pressure” will compel Iran and North Korea to accept new deals. But why would they? The threat of maximum pressure rings hollow when there is scant support for it among U.S. allies. Nor is it convincing that the U.S. would be able to effectively apply maximum pressure on both Iran and North Korea at the same time.

The bottom line: The global expectation now is that Washington will fail. That does not bode well for U.S. foreign policy.

Vali Nasr is dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

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