It’s Time to Stop Enabling Iran
The White House should be pushing back against Tehran's aggression. So why is Obama coddling the mullahs?
As negotiators from the United States, Iran, and other nations race to meet the deadline — originally set for today — for a comprehensive framework agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranian regime’s exploitation of the negotiations becomes clearer by the day.
Many in Congress, including me, are deeply concerned about the impact of a nuclear deal with a regime that has habitually violated its international commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. All signs indicate that if the two sides reach a deal, it will only solidify Iran’s future as a nuclear power — instigating a new wave of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, one that will have ripple effects in other regions for decades to come.
Beyond the nuclear deal, there is a broader concern about the legitimacy an agreement would grant the oppressive clerical regime in Tehran. A deal as currently constructed will increase Iranian influence in the region and will aid and abet Iran’s efforts to achieve the status of regional hegemon.
This has significant consequences for the safety and security of our ally Israel, but also for our Sunni Arab partners in the region. That is why, despite the Pollyannaish pronouncements of administration officials, one hears expressions of concern from Cairo to Riyadh about the current path of American diplomacy toward Iran.
It is no coincidence that Iran has achieved a series of stunning successes in recent years as the nuclear talks under the Joint Plan of Action have unfolded. For example, in many respects Iraq is now a client state of Iran. Shiite militias that are under Iran’s military, political, and religious influence have so far had the greatest successes in the battle against the Islamic State — instead of the Iraqi Army units that the United States is trying to train and advise.
Those in the United States who advocate the notion that “the enemy of your enemy is your friend” are deeply mistaken when it comes to Iran and the Islamic State. While the Iranian leadership may share our near-term goal of rolling back the Islamic State, the way in which Iran is contributing to the fight will have repercussions that have the potential to change the sectarian balance and alliances of a significant portion of the Middle East.
Iran has also become the dominant power in Syria. As the Syrian civil war enters its fifth year, Bashar al-Assad’s government is more dependent than ever on political, moral, and military support from Iran. Worse yet, even as U.S. and coalition aircraft fly daily missions over Syrian territory, they do not interfere as the Assad regime drops barrel bombs and uses chlorine gas against innocent civilians. Why not? Because, despite their denials, it seems the Obama administration does not wish to upset the ayatollahs during the nuclear negotiations. One need to look no further than Secretary of State John Kerry’s March 15 statement that the United States will “have to negotiate” with Assad.
This change in U.S. rhetoric regarding Assad’s future was delivered immediately before the start of the most recent round of negotiations with Iran, clear evidence of the impact of the nuclear negotiations on U.S. policy toward Syria.
Iran’s growing influence extends far beyond Iraq and Syria, too. In Bahrain, Tehran has taken advantage of the government’s refusal to engage seriously in a reform process with the moderate opposition and has helped fan the flames of dissent into violence. In Yemen, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have deposed the government and are in control of large swaths of the parts of the country that are not under the sway of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, Iran’s continued backing of its terrorist proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, fuels mayhem and violence and continues to spill blood throughout the region. Even outside the Middle East, Iran has continued to develop networks of influence, often utilizing its terrorist subordinates.
The Obama administration has at times appeared to welcome Iran’s expansionism through its efforts to coordinate with Tehran in the campaign against the Islamic State, and the administration has been hesitant to take actions to counteract Iran’s growing regional role, lest the nuclear negotiations, which are always in a “sensitive phase,” be disrupted.
What seems to be lost to those negotiating is that the United States and Iran remain adversaries, with different interests in the Middle East and across the globe. Now more than ever, we should recall the memories of the hundreds of Americans murdered by Iranian agents and proxies over multiple decades in order see the true price of past efforts to appease the mullahs.
As Congress asserts its proper role in approving any agreement reached with Iran, it should also make clear to Tehran what the future U.S.-Iranian relationship will look like in the aftermath of a nuclear deal — if Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and its brutal human rights abuses continue. As long as Iran’s behavior does not change, it should be penalized by the United States and isolated internationally.
We need to replace détente with rollback. We can no longer continue to passively accept Iran’s attempts at regional domination. Until we have a broader regional strategy to pressure Iran and reverse its recent gains throughout the region, the nuclear negotiations are unlikely to deliver an outcome that truly precludes Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon.
To this end, we must increase our efforts to undermine and strangle Hezbollah by targeting the group’s financial networks and shutting off its covert arms supply networks, something I’ve introduced legislation to do.
Instead of decreasing pressure on Assad, the United States needs to rededicate itself to removing Assad from power and developing a coherent strategy to support moderate military and political leaders in Syria. This is important to prevent the continuance of Syria as a satellite of Iran and will also have the added benefit of reversing the encroachment of Tehran’s forces on Israel’s borders.
We also need a more cogent response to the challenges of Yemen beyond our current approach of an expressed openness to possibly making common cause with the Houthis because of our shared enemy in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Finally, and most importantly, the United States needs to bring more to the table than shuttle diplomacy and hand-holding to reassure our traditional partners in the region that we will continue to honor our agreements with them and preserve a united front against Iranian expansionism.
President Obama may try to argue that after almost six years of outreach, Iran still may take the “open door” that he and many in the international community have provided, or that a grand bargain will empower the supposed reformists in Iran and lead to a much-needed rapprochement between Washington and Tehran.
Unfortunately, history has repeatedly shown this to be pure fantasy. The new Middle East that is being formed in large part because of failed U.S. leadership is one in which militant Shiite Islam, led by Iran, dominates more and more countries and proceeds down the path toward nuclear weapons.
That outcome is unacceptable to the United States. It is why we need to stop elevating the process of having talks over the substance of what those talks are actually yielding. It is why we need to end the policy of engaging in diplomacy at all costs and not being willing to walk away from a bad deal that fails to stop a nuclear Iran. And it is why we must reverse the erosion of American power in what remains a vitally important region.
President Obama and his team have spent much of their time in office trying to extricate the United States from the Middle East without regard for the consequences of doing so and with no appreciation for the simple truth that the world is a safer place when America is engaged in it and defending our allies and partners as well as our interests. For these reasons, it is ironic that this administration’s policies are putting us on the path toward a Middle East that is less secure, more hostile to American interests, and more in need of American leadership than at any point in decades.
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