According to President Obama, “Iran so far has followed the letter of the agreement, but the spirit of the agreement involves Iran also sending signals to the world community and businesses that it is not going to be engaging in a range of provocative actions that might scare business off.” He added, “When they launch ballistic missiles with slogans calling for the destruction of Israel, that makes businesses nervous.”
His comments are curious both because the “letter of the agreement” seems to be forever changing to incorporate Iran’s demands and because despite Iran’s actions, the president continues to make more concessions. As Eli Lake observes, “This pattern began over the summer when Obama himself assured Congress and the public that the International Atomic Energy Agency would have the ability to inspect any suspicious site it wanted. The Iranians countered that their military facilities were off limits. . . . When the IAEA devised a plan to inspect Iran’s Parchin facility, the Iranians refused inspectors access and allowed only a ceremonial visit from the agency’s director. The Iranians were allowed to collect their own site samples.” I suppose it is easy to abide by the letter of the agreement if one is allowed to erase inconvenient parts of the deal.
Congressional leaders from both parties are firing back over what they see is evidence that Congress was blatantly misled about the terms of the deal and the administration’s willingness to confront Iran’s non-nuclear behavior. Today, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) is quoted as saying, “When multiple officials—including Secretary Kerry, Secretary Lew, and Ambassador Mull—testify in front of Members of Congress, we are inclined to believe them. “However, the gap between their promises on the Iran nuclear deal and today’s scary reality continues to widen. We are now trying to determine whether this was intentional deception on the part of the administration or new levels of disturbing acquiescence to the Iranians.”
U.S. allies — and not just Israel — are nervous as well. Yousef Al Otaiba, ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, writes in the Wall Street Journal, “Since the nuclear deal … Iran has only doubled down on its posturing and provocations. In October, November and again in early March, Iran conducted ballistic-missile tests in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.” He goes on to document a long list of Iranian provocations:
In December, Iran fired rockets dangerously close to a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, just weeks before it detained a group of American sailors. In February, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan visited Moscow for talks to purchase more than $8 billion in Russian fighter jets, planes and helicopters.
In Yemen, where peace talks now hold some real promise, Iran’s disruptive interference only grows worse. Last week, the French navy seized a large cache of weapons on its way from Iran to support the Houthis in their rebellion against the U.N.-backed legitimate Yemeni government. In late February, the Australian navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Oman with thousands of AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. And last month, a senior Iranian military official said Tehran was ready to send military “advisers” to assist the Houthis. . . . And in Syria, Iran continues to deploy Hezbollah militias and its own Iranian Revolutionary Guard to prop up Syria’s Bashar Assad.
It is remarkable that the United Arab Emirates ambassador seems more outraged about Iranian aggression against the United States than does the U.S. president. He is certainly more proactive: “At the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh later this month, the U.S., the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman should reach an agreement on a common mechanism to monitor, expose and curb Iran’s aggression. This should include specific measures to block its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah units in Syria and Lebanon, and Iranian-linked terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.” He continues, “Recent half measures against Iran’s violations of the ballistic-missile ban are not enough. If the aggression continues, the U.S. and the global community should make clear that Iran will face the full range of sanctions and other steps still available under U.N. resolutions and in the nuclear deal itself.” One cannot help but think that the West would be far safer if he, not Secretary of State John Kerry, had been the lead negotiator.
The good news is that at least one presidential contender seems to grasp what is going on. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) regularly denounces the Obama administration’s giveaways to Iran. He would do well to expound on his concerns and lay out a complete Iran policy.
While it is too much to hope that Donald Trump would understand most of this, or that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would be any more stalwart than the administration, one would hope Hillary Clinton would voice agreement with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and other Democrats who are pushing back against the administration’s serial appeasement. Clinton sure sounded, at least when wooing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee audience recently, as though she did not favor letting Iran run rampant. (“This deal must come with vigorous enforcement, strong monitoring, clear consequences for any violations and a broader strategy to confront Iran’s aggression across the region. We cannot forget that Tehran’s fingerprints are on nearly every conflict across the Middle East, from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen. . . . Iranian provocations, like the recent ballistic missile tests, are also unacceptable and should be answered firmly and quickly including with more sanctions.”) It would be helpful to reiterate that sentiment in light of recent events.
Congress should conduct its oversight duties and on a bipartisan basis increase sanctions against Iran while reauthorizing sanctions due to expire this year. And the presidential candidates should be clear and unanimous in objecting to the president’s concessions following the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It is in their interest to do so, for one of them is going to have a much harder time restoring American credibility and enforcing international norms against Iran if the administration plans on giving away the store before Obama leaves office.