President Trump and his advisers are rightly concerned about Syria and North Korea. These rogue states, guilty of human rights atrocities, pose the risk of wider violence and destabilization. Syria’s civil war has already created millions of refugees, has rekindled diseases (e.g. polio) that were once thought to be extinct and has allowed the country to become a haven for Islamic State terrorists. And yet, these should be lesser concerns in the bigger scheme.
Former Israeli ambassador to the United States and esteemed historian Michael Oren recently wrote:
The framework agreements with North Korea and Syria, concluded respectively in 1994 and 2013, were similar in many ways. Both recognized that the regimes already possessed weapons of mass destruction or at least the means to produce them. Both assumed that the regimes would surrender their arsenals under an international treaty and open their facilities to inspectors. And both believed that these repressive states, if properly engaged, could be brought into the community of nations.
All those assumptions were wrong.
He praises the administration for the strikes on Syria and for sending ships to patrol off North Korea to uphold the framework behind anti-WMD agreements, but the danger from these states is of lesser magnitude than that from Iran, without which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not remain in power. He points out:
Iran could follow the Syrian and North Korean examples and cheat. Or, while enjoying hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it can adhere to the agreement and deactivate parts of its nuclear facilities rather than dismantle them. It can develop new technologies for producing atomic bombs while testing intercontinental ballistic missiles. It can continue massacring Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis, and bankrolling Hamas and Hezbollah. The [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] enables Iran to do all that merely by complying.
Oren’s recommendations echo the suggestions of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and outside experts. (“The remaining American sanctions on Iran must stay staunchly in place and Congress must pass further punitive legislation. Above all, a strong link must be established between the JCPOA and Iran’s support for terror, its pledges to annihilate Israel and overthrow pro-American Arab governments, and its complicity in massacres.”)
Congress and the Trump administration need to move expeditiously on sanctions. The mammoth Boeing deal with Iran illustrates the glaring shortcomings of the JCPOA. Bloomberg reports:
Boeing Co. landed its second jetliner sale to an Iranian airline since the 1970s, a $3 billion deal that sets up a test of the planemaker’s ties with President Donald Trump.
The pact with Iran Aseman Airlines to purchase 30 of Boeing’s 737 Max planes adds to a separate $16.6 billion agreement with Iran Air, which the Chicago-based manufacturer is still finalizing. If completed, the transactions would be the first U.S. aircraft exports to Iran since the Shah era. …
While Iran wants to upgrade its museum-vintage fleet because of safety concerns, it isn’t clear the Middle Eastern country would be able to absorb the hundreds of aircraft it is ordering from Boeing and Airbus.
“If you add it all up, Iran needs nothing like the number of jetliners they are committing to. It’s not clear they can afford them either,” [aerospace consultant Richard] Aboulafia said.
While the House has passed a bill trying to block the sale, anti-Iran hawks in the Senate concede that the deal is legal under current law. (“Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland who is the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said there is little Congress can do to block the plane sale as long as it meets the terms set out in the nuclear deal. That was echoed by Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who has been a leading voice against the nuclear deal.”) That perfectly illustrates why our Iran sanctions regimen is insufficient.
The incoherence here is stunning. On one hand, we are properly worried over Syria and North Korea. On the other hand, our current policy toward Iran, a much greater threat, is such that we are helping to rebuild and enrich a country that is supporting Assad, is exporting terrorism, is fomenting regional chaos and — even without cheating — can eventually obtain nuclear weapons. We are concerned about North Korea’s puny and inept ballistic missile program but have done nothing since pinprick sanctions to respond to Iran’s illegal missile tests. We have lots of challenges to address, to be sure, but we shouldn’t take our eyes off of the worst and most dangerous rogue state.