"It’s exactly like Iraq," Lewis said of Trump's push for dirt on Tehran. "The facts were being fitted around the policy."
"With Healthcare dead, Trump will be even more determined to kill Obama's top foreign policy achievement - the Iran Deal," Ilan Goldenberg, the Middle East security director at the Center for New American Security tweeted after Trump's healthcare defeat.
But unlike healthcare, the Iran deal involves six countries and the US has a limited ability to act unilaterally — so Trump has been looking for dirt to increase pressure on Tehran.
Every 90 days, the US has to confirm that Iran has complied with the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections and not violated the terms of the deal. For the first six months of Trump's presidency, he has gone through with the procedure, albeit begrudgingly, according to the Associated Press.
"If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago," Trump told the Wall Street Journal of the Iran deal. But Jeffrey Lewis, the founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk and an expert on nuclear proliferation, told Business Insider that like the IAEA, he sees no evidence of Iran violating the terms of the deal.
The AP reported that Trump wants to drum up "foolproof intelligence" of suspicious activity at Iranian military sites to increase the scope of inspections — something that Iran would almost certainly push back on.
If Iran refused the inspections, Trump would have good reason to exit the deal, bringing the other parties with him.
"Demand more inspections and when Iran doesn't comply, blame Iran & use it as an excuse to walk away from the agreement," Tweeted Goldenberg. "If US can blame Iran then it can build coalition to reimpose sanctions and get a better deal."
But the problem, according to Lewis and Goldenberg, is that none of the other nations involved in the deal believe Trump is acting in good faith. Intelligence exclusive to the US that suggests Iran is cheating on the deal will likely appear politically motivated, the experts concluded.
"If real evidence turns up, I want us to be able to hunt that down, but everything [the administration] said makes it seem like it's a transparent and cynical effort to confront the Iranians," said Lewis.
The selective search for intelligence on a Middle Eastern adversary's allegedly clandestine nuclear weapons program draws a dark historical parallel.
In 2003, during the run up to the Iraq war, the US cherry-picked intelligence and represented Iraq as a state bent on building weapons of mass destruction. Former President George W. Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice famously said at the time "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
After Baghdad fell and the US took custody of Saddam Hussein, it found no smoking gun, and nothing capable of creating a mushroom cloud.
"It’s exactly like Iraq," Lewis said of Trump's push for dirt on Tehran. "The facts were being fitted around the policy." The major difference in this case, according to Lewis, is that the US is unlikely to invade Iran.
In some ways, Trump has been more straightforward. He does not like the Iran deal, and he seeks to discredit it so he can eventually scrap it.
After all, Iran is openly antagonistic towards the US. Iran frequently harasses US Navy ships sailing around the Arabian Gulf. In fact, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, the commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy said point blank that "one of the IRGC navy's operational goals is to destroy America's Navy."
But Lewis warned that nuclear technology is old, and if Iran wanted to, even with the return of heavy sanctions abated by the JCPOA, it could build a nuclear weapon surprisingly quickly.