Behind the professions of European leaders that the joint agreement to limit Iranian nuclear progress is vital to global security, their real angst at President Donald Trump's action in canceling the accord is the way it demonstrates their own irrelevance and impotence.
When Germany's Angela Merkle, Britain's Theresa May and France's Emmanuel Macron follow in each other's footsteps to Trump's door to plead against canceling the Iran deal, they revel in the illusion -- for domestic consumption -- of the vital role they play on the world stage.
But the reality is that the cancellation of the U.S. participation in the Iran deal shows the exact opposite.
The sanctions against Iran not only directly bar U.S. companies from doing business in Iran but also prohibit them from doing business with any company that does (i.e. secondary sanctions).
The sanctions, previously passed by Congress and now re-applied by Trump, confront banks throughout the world with the danger that dealing with Iran's Central Bank or any of Iran's energy, shipping, shipbuilding and port industries will cost them access to the U.S. financial system. Ditto for companies providing insurance or re-insurance for Iran.
These sanctions will slash Iran's oil export revenues. But as The New York Post editorializes: "Worse than anything for the regime, Iran's foreign-held reserves will be on lock-down. Money paid by its oil customers must sit in foreign escrow accounts. Banks that allow Iran to repatriate, transfer or convert these payments to other currencies face the full measure of U.S. financial sanctions."
But to convince Iran that we mean business, Trump's Treasury Department needs to zero in on a bank that is in violation and close it down.
Meanwhile, all Germany, France and Britain can do is to sit by and watch. They can do nothing to protect their banks or companies from the pain of these sanctions.
The idea of secondary sanctions originated with New York's Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato in the 1990s when he included such an amendment into a sanctions bill aimed at Iran. Our European allies went nuts, foreseeing the position into which these secondary sanctions would put them. They all urged a veto and the compliant State Department joined in the request.
But President Clinton wanted to show his toughness on Iran and signed the bill, with the D'Amato amendment. But, hedging his bets as always, Clinton tried to have his cake and eat it too by inserting a national security waiter whereby the president could avoid imposing secondary sanctions in the name of national security.
And, when time came to impose the sanctions, Clinton, along with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama after him availed themselves of the national security waiver and stopped secondary sanctions from falling on European banks and companies.
But Trump is under no such inhibition and is now, again, imposing secondary sanctions.