Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons poses a grave threat to the United States, to Israel, to other close partners in the Middle East, and to international peace and security. There is not yet a nuclear deal with Iran, but I agree with the many experts who believe an agreement is likely. Repeated concessions and desperate accommodation suggest the Obama Administration will do anything to secure a deal. And with America playing such a weak hand, why shouldn’t the Supreme Leader squeeze President Obama for more concessions?
Although I will reserve final judgment until the details of a comprehensive agreement are public, I fear it will be a bad deal for the United States, Israel, and all who desire a stable Middle East. And it will be a good deal for Iran’s leaders: one that legitimizes Iran’s authoritarian regime, fills Tehran’s dwindling coffers, and fuels Iran’s aggression throughout the region – all without requiring the clerics to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions. Indeed, a bipartisan group that included several former senior Obama Administration officials recently acknowledged the deal being negotiated “will not prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability.”
As we await details of the latest concessions the Obama Administration is making to Iran, we should recall the grave danger posed to the world by Iran’s non-nuclear aggression across the Middle East. Without a comprehensive strategy to deal with the totality of Iran’s threats to our interests, the expected nuclear deal is likely to offer only short-term political benefits for President Obama, not lasting security benefits for America.
Iran is the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism. It has supported a wide variety of terrorist organizations, from Shi’a extremists in Lebanese Hizballah and Iraq’s militias to Sunni jihadists in groups such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Taliban, and even al Qaeda. Prior to September 11, 2001, Iranian-backed Hizballah was responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other terrorist organization in the world, and it remains an extraordinarily deadly terrorist group that threatens U.S. interests. During the war in Iraq, Iranian proxies and weapons were responsible for the deaths of more than a thousand American soldiers. Despite the wishful thinking of the Obama Administration surrounding the 2013 selection Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s President, Iran’s support for terrorism has only continued, and its proxies are as violent as ever.
Iran foments instability and sectarian tension throughout the region. It is a delusion to believe, as the President does, that the current regime in Tehran can be a force for stability in the Middle East. Iran has bankrolled and armed the Assad regime during its war against the Syrian people, and hundreds of Iranian special operations forces are operating as combatants in Syria. Iranian-backed militia have subverted the Iraqi state and helped fuel sectarian tensions that have driven many Sunnis into the arms of ISIL.
And in Yemen, Iran has supported Houthi rebels who deposed one of America’s most important counterterrorism partners and plunged the country into chaos.
Iran has one of the most aggressive rocket and missile programs in the world. Iranian-backed militias used Iranian mortars, rockets, and improvised explosive devices to attack U.S. targets. Hamas and Hizballah have fired thousands of Iranian-produced rockets, projectiles, and missiles against Israel. The Islamic Republic of Iran has developed long-range missiles capable of hitting Israel, and is developing an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that would be capable of hitting the United States.
Not content with aggression abroad, Iran’s rulers engage in brutal repression at home. Religious minorities, political dissidents, and journalists are subjected to harassment, detention, torture, and even execution. Despite Obama Administration hopes that President Rouhani would usher in an era of moderation and tolerance, his tenure has been marked by an increase in human rights abuses and repression. The leaders of the 2009 Green Movement remain in detention, as do at least several American citizens and countless Iranian political dissidents and prisoners of conscience.
The Obama-Clinton-Kerry Iran policy has failed not only because its weak negotiating strategy will not stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability, but also because it has, from the beginning, ignored the comprehensive nature of the threat posed by Iran. The nuclear program is but one symptom of an underlying disease, and the Obama Administration has treated only this one symptom, and ineffectively at that.
Whatever happens in the coming days, America under our next President will have to deal comprehensively with the threats posed by Iran. It must seek to rally the region and the world to pressure Iran to change its behavior. It must demand conclusive proof Iran has not just delayed, but given up its nuclear weapons ambitions. It must develop a strategy not just to defeat ISIL, but also to combat Iran’s malign activities in Iraq and Syria. It must impose meaningful consequences on Iran for its support of terrorism and its abhorrent treatment of its own citizens. It must deny Iran the ability to produce longer-range ballistic missiles that will threaten America and its allies.
Undoing the damage done by a fundamentally flawed nuclear deal will not be easy. But it will be essential for the security of the United States.
All of these challenges will, of course, be exponentially more difficult to address if, by consummating a bad nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama Administration squanders the international consensus and sanctions currently pressuring Iran’s leaders without securing a more fundamental shift in Iran’s behavior.
If this is the legacy of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy, it will be a dangerous one for the next President to repair.