“If we’re successful... this will be the best deal possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” – US President Barack Obama.
“Mr. Netanyahu was right to remind Congress that the way Tehran behaves toward its people and its neighbors is the ultimate reason why the mullahs can’t be trusted with a nuclear program.” – The Wall Street Journal.
I was fortunate enough to have witnessed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech from within the chamber, as a guest of Congresswoman Grace Meng of New York (D). Congresswoman Meng has been skeptical of the administration’s approach to Iran, as she sees Iran as a threat to both Israeli and American national security interests. I decided to wait a few days before writing my analysis of the speech, hopefully gaining some perspective by letting the whirlwind of analysis and spin die down. I began by looking back at the nuclear proliferation challenges in the Middle East over the past half-century, and America’s and Israel’s responses. Then I asked myself, “What if”? 1. What if Israel had listened to the Reagan administration and not destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981? Ten years later when Iraq invaded Kuwait, would we have been able to evict it? Would Saddam Hussein still be in control of Kuwait – or Saudi Arabia – if he had possessed nuclear weapons in 1990? Would oil prices have skyrocketed as a consequence of the instability? Would the 1980s have been an era of economic recession instead of economic growth? 2. What if Israel had not destroyed the Syrian reactor in 2007? Would America and the world now be dealing with a genocidal ophthalmologist in possession of nuclear weapons, allied with Iran? Or would the Islamic State (IS) have captured those nuclear weapons and now be pointing them at Israel from the Golan? The conclusion is clear: the world is a safer place today because of those Israeli actions.
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Which brings us to today’s Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu reminded the West that Iran is perhaps the least trustworthy nation on the planet, and is a threat not only to Israel, but also to American national security. Just look at its record.
The theocratic leadership practices taddiyah, religiously sanctioned deception. Obama’s negotiators and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are either ignorant of this or choose to ignore it, so as not to interfere with the vision for Obama’s foreign policy legacy.
Here is the reality as I see it:
1. Iran will get a nuclear weapon at any time of its choosing, and everyone in the region knows it.
2. Iran’s decision makers rely on the fact that the Obama administration will not militarily intervene in Iran, whether or not Iran complies with a signed agreement.
3. This administration is in control of whether it legitimizes the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with a nuclear deal, or chooses to increase its leverage through intensified sanctions.
President Obama has staked out a position that it is better to make a deal with Iran now, because if we don’t concede most of Iran’s demands then it will be on an unobstructed path to nuclear weapons. He has chosen to ignore Iran’s record of human rights abuses and state sponsorship of terrorism.
Human rights expert and former justice minister and attorney-general of Canada Irwin Cotler opined: “[H]uman rights violations in Iran continue unabated – and have even intensified... the prospect of [an Iran] seeking to possess nuclear weapons itself warrants concern... the reality of Iran’s repressive treatment of its citizens – and blatant breaches of its international law obligations... should cause us to question the veracity of any commitments made by the regime.”
In response to Netanyahu’s speech, President Obama concocted a straw-man argument, claiming the Israeli prime minister offered no new alternatives. In reality, the prime minister articulated a very different path forward, believing that sanctions not only brought Iran to the table, but that further sanctions can bring about a better nuclear deal.
What no one is willing to say is that there is only one way to turn Iran into a nation that does not threaten its neighbors respects its own people – regime change. The mechanism to set this in action is identical to what Netanyahu recommended: increasing sanctions.
Ambassador Aaron David Miller told me a few months back that we don’t do regime change very well. He is correct when referring to military-centric regime change.
What we can and should do is help create the conditions for internal regime change. The only path to make this happen is to increase the economic distress in Iran through further sanctions. The goal would be to create enough economic discomfort for the Iranian populace to ignite a demand for regime change from within.
Unfortunately for the Iranian people, President Obama choose to abandon them during the Persian Spring and chose rapprochement with the mullahs over objection to the human rights abuses committed against the Persian people. Iran’s citizens are the most likely people in the Muslim Middle East to become Western-oriented. Much like Turkey before the rise of the anti-Western Erdogan, Iran could return to the family of nations as a force for regional stability if the “mullahcracy” is overthrown.
If we increase sanctions, we could have a win-win situation.
If the Iranian leadership knows we are committed to maintaining sanctions until they completely stop enrichment, then the ayatollah and his minions, for their own survival, might choose compromise. If they choose otherwise, then sanctions will increase the economic distress of the Iranian people, who are capable of overthrowing this regime.
Unlike the current deal, which guarantees a nuclear Iran, increasing sanctions is the only rational choice to deal with the prospect of the world’s least trustworthy regime coming into possession of the world’s most dangerous weapon.
Whatever deal the president signs, we know the following: 1. Iran has a 25-year history of disregarding the international community on its secretive weapons and nuclear research programs.
2. Even after Iran cheats – and it will – we will not be able to restart sanctions.
3. The Europeans will flock to Iran for economic gain, and will not sacrifice economic deals no matter how blatantly Iran violates its commitments.
4. It is in Iran’s hegemonic interests to get nuclear weapons.
5. Signing this deal with Iran will be the death knell of nuclear containment, with a nuclear-empowered Iran and exponential nuclear growth in the unstable Sunni world.
6. Israel will be particularly vulnerable, as Iran will extend a nuclear umbrella to Hezbollah.
7. Iranian ally Syria will also be emboldened, and the deal will hurt the possibility of any regime resistance in Syria.
8. Sunni Iraqi tribes in Islamic State territory that had previously supported the West in the Surge will be forced into the Islamic State camp.
9. The Sunni Gulf states will look to China for protection in the 21st century, accelerating the demise of American power in the world.
10. Bahrain will become more vulnerable to an Iranian assault, as Iran claims rightful control of that nation.
11. A deal will condemn Iran’s minority citizens to increased human rights abuses, which will be ignored by the EU and the UN.
Should Netanyahu have accepted the Congressional invitation to speak before the American people? Yes and no. Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal opined that the timing of the speech was set not by the Israeli prime minister or by House Speaker John Boehner, but by the March deadline for the nuclear talks imposed by US Secretary of State Kerry.
I would have preferred a postponement of the speech until right after the Israeli election, but before the March 24 deadline. It would have let President Obama feel he got a “win,” and as a quid pro quo, the president should have met the prime minister after the election as a head of state.
Kerry fawns all over the human rights abusers from Iran, so why not give the only liberal democracy in the region its due? How to explain the fact that Iran receives warm smiles, photo-ops, and conciliatory gestures from the administration, while America’s only true ally in the Middle East is shunned as an obstructive force in the region? Lost in the war of words between the Obama administration and the Israeli government is the profound discussion that should be taking place among US foreign policy and national security experts about the implications of a nuclear Iran to American interests.
The administration’s deliberate creation of a false scenario of the P5+1 vs. Israeli interests, instead of the P5+1 vs. the Iranian quest for regional hegemony through nuclear weapons, has performed an incredible disservice to America’s national security interests. I am confident that the next American president will inherit the consequences of a failed American foreign policy that will haunt future administrations for generations. What I am not confident of is whether President Obama will follow the advice of president Reagan – trust but verify.
The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.
He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.