Before the end of this week President Trump is required to revisit his October decision that Iran is not complying with the Iran nuclear agreement (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, for short). In legislative parlance Trump must decide whether to sign waivers which, if he refused to sign, would re-impose economic sanctions against Iran because while he “decertified” it, he did not rip it up.
Trump’s impending decision comes against a backdrop of recent violent street demonstrations throughout Iran by Iranians protesting human rights violations, the decaying economy, and the rampant corruption within the mullahs’ theo-kleptocracy. Twenty-one Iranians were killed by authorities and over 1,000 arrested throughout the country.
Senior Trump Administration officials have, with ample justification, publicly supported the protestors even though shopworn counsel from the Obama JCPOA architects has urged “silencio!” These Obama-era nervous nellies are the very officials who conveniently duct-taped their mouths shut during the Green Revolution of 2009 for fear that any support for the real moderates in Iran would backfire in the singular pursuit of the fatally flawed Obama “opening” to the Ayatollah. Now, they shed a lot of crocodile tears for the protestors, but cling to their nuke deal as if it were the holy grail.
For Trump, the prospect of signing more sanctions waivers while Iran cracks down on innocent Iranians is as detestable as certifying compliance with the nuke deal.
It is a fascinating read how many of Obama’s nuke deal negotiators believe they are now entitled to “credit” for negotiating the deal in the first place -- asserting that the agreement was also intended to foster these protests if the hoped-for moderation by the regime would fail to materialize; that the deal “…has exposed the regime’s vulnerabilities, not erased them.”
Ah, the acrid odor of Washington revisionism! That is THE diplomatic definition of chutzpah.
The Supreme Leader has blamed “foreign enemies” of Iran for instigating the protests, which has shaken the regime to its very foundation since much of the protests were aimed directly at the Supreme Leader. Those “enemies” fingered by Khamenei that has so lathered up this medieval Islamic monk: Madison Avenue, Hollywood, McDonalds, Silicon Valley, and ENGLISH—yes, the English language.
English, as it turns out, is the Ayatollah’s kryptonite. Khamenei went, well, into a mullah meltdown in 2016 when he found out that some Iranian nursery schools were teaching English. So, the riots have forced Khamenei to double down. He is now banned the teaching of English in Iran’s primary schools. According to reports in both Reuters and The New York Times this week “Iran has banned the teaching of English in primary schools because its teaching opens Iran up to “cultural invasion”” (aka Hollywood lust and action, and a longing for American fast food joints, such as McDonalds). OMG, the brainwashing of young protestors due to a diet of crass American culture and fast food!
For good measure, the Supreme Leader also banned social media sites, such as Telegram, which is the app of choice of over 75 million Iranians, which kept protestors stoked and informed.
The Supreme Leader better mind his “Ps & Qs!”
I have visions of American stealth bombers dropping millions of crates laden with English language instruction toys, books, to instruct young Iranian’s how to learn the Queen’s English, so to speak.
But getting back to Trump’s imminent decision, what would happen if he refused to sign the waivers and re-imposed economic sanctions? Is there a pathway to a “fix” that makes sense rather than create a signature Trump big league mess?
Well, for starters, the Iranians have threatened to tear up the nuke deal up if sanctions were re-imposed and restart their nuke program.
Really? In this potential game of diplomatic “chicken” would the UK, France, Germany and Canada (other signatories to the nuke deal) just blame Trump for killing the deal and sit back while Iran restarts its nuke program? Bluff? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Then what? Is there a Plan B to stop an unchained Iranian nuclear program? Are all (military) “options” really on the table?
Obama-era “preservationists” argue that if Trump tears up the deal it would provide Khamenei an alibi to blame the U.S., rather than his own government, for his people’s travails. That’s an unadulterated red-herring alibi. The hardliners who opposed the deal may have their day in court, but the protesters know better.
If Trump can “fix” the deal, he really should not “nix” it…at least not yet.
What does a credible “fix” entail.
For starters, the fundamental (and fatal) flaw of the JCPOA created by its chief American negotiator John Kerry is that there was no underlying plan to contain Iran’s militarist terrorism or its ballistic missile program. At great cost to our security, the JCPOA was negotiated by a posse of uber idealistic academic wishful thinkers, not practical realists schooled in the cruel realities of Iran’s danger to us and our allies. Their fool’s bet on Iran moderating its dangerous conduct has turned out to be a pipe dream. Iran’s terror-militarism is on full display in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and against Saudi Arabia.
Lawmakers are working on a change to the Iran Nuclear Review Act that may remove the presidential three month rolling certification requirement, or extend to six months or longer the certification requirement. This is so “inside the beltway” and does not get to the real beef with the deal’s flaws.
The practical flaws in the deal are so evident they literally scream “STOP!”
1. Obama/Kerry/Rice agreed to a deal that failed to place any restriction on Iran’s ballistic missile program.
2. Iran is free to resume its bomb-making program after seven years cost free.
3. Obama/Kerry/Rice failed to buttress the deal with ANY policy to contain Iran’s regional misconduct – drinking their own diplomatic Kool-Aid on a sucker’s bet that Iran would moderate its internal and external behavior.
What to do?
The Ayatollah’s military dictatorship cannot be fixed by any tinkering to the deal itself. Doing business with a decrepitly dangerous revolutionary regime that, to this day, has a Supreme Leader daily demanding death to Israel, holds Americans hostage, bankrolls Syria’s Assad, finances and trains Shiite militias killing American military personnel, supports Hezbollah, and harbors Al Qaeda’s new leader -- the son of Osama Bin Laden -- is not just Trump’s challenge, it should be a problem for all of us. Its people are sick of being imprisoned by a mullah-run dictatorship.
First, the U.S. should finally declare the entire Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization. Surprised we have not done so? So am I. The IRGC is Iran’s terror army sucking up billions in sanctions relief. Trump had his chance to do so in October, but was talked out of it by his national security team fearing that a declaration would then jeopardize “deconfliction” necessities where U.S. and IRGC troops were in close battlefield proximity (i.e., in Iraq and Syria). With ISIS defeated in both Syria and Iraq that fear has substantially subsided and the demonstrations in Iran compel more a more urgent response against the IRGC.
Second, if we only had a secretary of state instead of Rex Tillerson. The President needs a top-notch diplomat who should be in Brussels dangling a potential withdrawal from the deal by jawboning our European allies to place a “freeze” on sanctions relief until Iran agrees to iron-clad restrictions on its ballistic missile program – as required by United Nations Security Council resolutions which Iran has violated.
Third, the Trump Administration should substantially increase its financial support for social media companies which provide Iranians with “circumvention tools” to hoodwink regime censorship of social media. Apps such as “Psiphon” are crucial to Iranians, as well as supporting technology company efforts to camouflage Telegram by redirecting users’ internet traffic bound for banned addresses via foreign cloud service providers.
Fourth, it’s time to really squeeze the regime with a new round of economic sanctions not barred under the Iran nuclear deal. What types of new sanctions? For starters barring U.S. banks and financial institutions from doing any business with any Iranian or foreign entity which does business with the IRGC or its affiliates. The U.S. should also impose new economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) – the mullah’s propaganda machine, which is run by one of Khamenei’s lackeys.
Fifth, Democrats need to break out their Obama-era straightjacket and cast aside those who continue to cling to this sputtering Obama legacy as if it was their religion and gun at the expense of fixing a flawed deal. I wrote in these pages on October 11, 2017 https://contributor.huffingtonpost.com/cms/post/59de5f53e4b069e5b833b1c3 a formula for Democrats to stop deferring to Trump and establish their own post-Obama era Iran policy that leverages a willingness by French President Macron to help Trump take a lead to:
1. Revise the sunset provision in the JCPOA which enables Iran to resume enrichment of uranium in 2025;
2. Clarify IAEA inspectors’ access to Iran’s military installations to determine whether it is engaging in illegal nuclear activities in them.
3. Compel Iran to ratify the so-called “Additional Protocols” to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would add more restrictions on the resumption of Iran’s military nuclear programs.
4. Reach a broader, integrated agreement with Iran over its illegal ballistic missile program; and
5. Reconsider several UN snap back sanctions unless Iran’s ceases its massive rearming of Hezbollah, and curtails its destabilizing activities in Lebanon, Syria and in Yemen.
Finally, the Trump Administration is planning to roll out a new strategy to contain Iran’s regional militarism and terrorism. It is the very policy most missing from the Obama-era’s Iran policy. No one, least of all I, desires a war with Iran. All the more reason why we need to work in a bipartisan manner to deal effectively with Iran.
I am concerned that the Trump Administration may not couple its contemplated “ultimate Middle East peace deal” with its a new Iran containment strategy. Iran will do everything to destroy any hope for peace between Israel and Sunni Arab states, and use Hezbollah as its proxy to destabilize any hope for an agreement. Our number one mission to pre-empt Iran’s mischief against any peace plan and to contain Iran must start with neutralizing Hezbollah in Syria and in Lebanon. Congress is on the cusp of passing new sanctions legislation targeting Hezbollah’s financial networks, but it needs to cover banks doing any business with this terrorist organization and, well, up the ante to get the European Union to end its foolish pretensions that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization.
If Iran refuses to reach a collateral agreement in 2018 to address these major flaws in the deal with the U.S. & European/Canadian allies, then Trump would be justified scuttling the deal down the road. In the meantime, these are the best “fixes” I believe could avoid a “nix.”