America, meet your European allies in the effort to contain Iran: Emmanuel Macron of France, Theresa May of Britain, and Angela Merkel of Germany. Think of them as the Three M’s. Or perhaps the Three Wise Monkeys. Or even, as the Wise Monkeys are sometimes known, and would probably prefer to be called, the Three Mystic Apes. For each of these three European leaders is affecting a posture of simian ignorance about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and presenting this unwillingness to accept reality as philosophical wisdom.
Emmanuel Macron sees no evil in the Iranian regime’s anti-Western, terrorist-sponsoring Islamist millenarianism, because global security must come second to getting the French economy into gear. Angela Merkel won’t hear of it, and only says something about it because to say nothing would be to abdicate Germany’s leadership of the European Union to France. And Theresa May can’t say much at all, because she leads a minority government so divided that her cabinet could not make a sandwich without arguing over which side of the bread to butter.
All three governments asked Trump not to withdraw America from the JCPOA, as the Iran Deal is technically known. Macron got a three-day state visit, Merkel got a three-hour meeting at the White House, and Theresa May’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson got three minutes on Fox and Friends. Macron proposed that the JCPOA be retained, and a second deal be negotiated to control Iran’s ballistic missile program and its export of terrorism. Merkel followed up by conceding that the JCPOA, which she and other world leaders had embraced in 2015 as the last word in Iran deals, was now only a ‘first step’. Johnson, unable to get a meeting, was reduced to pitching through Trump’s preferred news show.
Johnson is a good talker—sometimes too good. At home, his P.G. Wodehouse patter elevates the tedious and often sub-literate tone of Britain’s political discourse. But on Fox and Friends, Johnson came across as flippant when he told Brian Kilmeade that Iran ‘has a tendency to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles. This made Johnson look cynical when he quoted Churchill. It may be true that Americans admire Churchill. Some of them admire Churchill too much, to the point of confusing him with Tony Blair, or even Johnson himself, who has encouraged that kind of error by writing a superfluous book on Churchill. This morning, the Wall Street Journal called Johnson’s performance ‘fatuous’. This is as strong as it gets from a newspaper whose standards of propriety are so high that it grants the appellations ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ to serial killers, terrorist warlords and John Kerry.
Really, Johnson’s performance was no worse than those of Macron and Merkel. Macron continued his absurd display of primate physicality, but the strong handshake and the bear hugs were nothing compared to Trump’s dandruff-flicking. Trump’s ‘dominance hierarchy’, as primate anthropologists call it, was undisturbed by the French beta-male. It was equally untroubled by the cries of the aging female from Berlin and the chest-beating of the subordinate male from London.
The Europeans responded to Trump’s withdrawal speech by insisting that they would try to stay within the JCPOA. Think about that for a moment. Britain, France and Germany, who claim to be the United States’ closest friends, are siding with Russia and China, who are co-signatories to the JCPOA, and will do their best to accommodate the mullahs in Tehran further, providing they can cook up some codicil that might placate the American silverback. Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Union went further.
‘At this point,’ Juncker said, we [the EU] have to replace the United States, which as an international actor has lost its vigor, and because of it, in the long term, influence.” As the unelected chief of the European Union’s undemocratic Commission, Juncker has much less legitimacy than Rouhani of Iran. He does, however, keep an excellent cellar. If anyone in the United States cared about who Juncker is and what he thinks, there would be a real crisis in relations, instead of the fake crisis that we now have.
The Europeans have ninety days before American sanctions resume, and 180 days before they really bite. But even if they had ninety weeks, they couldn’t come up with a deal that will satisfy Trump. The Iranian regime will never agree to denuclearization, or to desist from spreading Shia Islamism and terrorism. That goes for the alleged ‘moderates’ as well as the ‘conservatives’—the difference here being that between the fundamentalist fanatic and the raging lunatic. Nor is a secular democratic Iranian government of the future likely to abandon its nuclear ambitions. The Jews in Israel, the Hindus in India, the Christians in Russia, and the Sunnis in Pakistan all have the bomb. The problem with an Iranian bomb is not its bombness, but the ideology of Iran’s current regime.
That problem is the one that Europe’s three wise monkeys refuse to acknowledge. Instead, they are climbing up a tree, engaging in the usual moral breast-beating, and leaving plenty of banana skins on the ground for the moment when they have to climb down. They need the American silverback more than they wish to admit. Their grandstanding resembles that of the caged apes who, enraged at their imprisonment, throw dung at their captors. Trump does not have to help them down; he only has to order them down. When he does, they will finally grasp that, when it comes to Iran and America’s international credibility, Trump isn’t monkeying around.