“Iran is playing with fire,” President Donald Trump warned in reaction to Iran’s ballistic missile test that violated the spirit — if not the letter — of former President Obama’s nuclear deal with a rogue Iranian regime. In response to Iran’s belligerent action, the Trump administration ordered sanctions on 25 individuals and entities National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said provided support for the Iranian missile program and to the Islamic Revolutionary Corps’ Qud Force.
Repudiating the conciliatory policies of the Obama administration, Flynn put Iran on notice that “the days of turning a blind eye towards Iran’s belligerent actions towards the United States and the world community are over. Flynn called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” perpetrating and abetting violent behavior, destabilizing the Middle East, and threatening to the United States and its allies. Although the sanctions did not impact the nuclear deal with Iran, the president did not limit his options, declaring “nothing is off the table,” including the use of force.
America’s traditional allies in the Middle East have construed the nuclear deal as the Obama administration’s acquiescence to Iranian hegemony.
The Trump administration’s robust response to the latest in a series of escalating Iranian provocations since the consummation of nuclear deal marks an important first step in reversing Obama’s feckless policy of appeasing a country that Gen. David Petraeus rightly identifies as our biggest problem in the Middle East. “The more Iranians are seen to be dominating the region, the more it is going to inflame,” he noted. Yet sanctions will not suffice to forestall the gathering danger of a revolutionary nuclear Iran. President Trump must abrogate the nuclear deal promptly and accelerate America’s ballistic missile defense program .
Otherwise, the United States will become increasingly vulnerable when a nuclear Iran triggers an unbridled arms race in the world’s most violent and volatile geopolitical region. The militant mullahs running Iran’s rogue regime envisage the nuclear deal as a way to wage war by other means, luring the West into a false sense of security while steadily proceeding to achieve a nuclear breakout capability and fomenting regional strife through its Islamist surrogates.
Even in the unlikely event Iran abides by its terms, the deal facilitates Iran crossing the nuclear threshold sooner rather than later. The Iranians retain their basing nuclear infrastructure. After 15 years all limits expire on Iran’s right to produce nuclear fuel or conduct research on advanced centrifuges. Iran’s breakout time to cross the nuclear threshold — now only one year — will diminish steadily over the duration of the agreement.
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Iran has not only retained its nuclear infrastructure, but receives hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief for its hard-pressed economy in exchange for these counterfeit restrictions on its nuclear program. The agreement imposes no limit whatsoever on the Iranian regime’s use of this huge cash infusion to intensify its implacable campaign to menace Israel and Iran’s Sunni Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.
Even Obama stalwart Tom Friedman writing in The New York Times conceded in his tepid defense of the agreement that “it is stunning how well the Iranians … played a weak hand … When you signal to the guy on the other side of the table that you’re not willing to either blow him up or blow him off — to get up and walk away — you … get the best bad deal that nonviolence can buy.” The nuclear deal with Iran is also unverifiable. Iran still refuses to concede to the International Atomic Energy Agency unrestricted access to all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program — critical in light of the high stakes of failing to detect violations and the Iran regime’s dismal record on transparency and compliance. Nor is it reassuring that Vladimir Putin’s Russia will hold the bulk of Iran’s enriched uranium that Iran theoretically divested under the agreement.
The Iran deal also is not enforceable, even if the verification scheme operates in a timely and effective way to expose Iranian noncompliance. The so-called snapback provisions re-impose sanctions only if an eight-nation panel decides unanimously that Iran has violated the agreement. What are the chances of Britain, China, France, Russia, Germany, the European Union, and the United States agreeing to that? Putin continues to act as Iran’s lawyer, supplying Iran with missiles and shielding the Iranian regime from the consequences of its mounting defiance. It beggars belief that ether Putin or China’s dictators will ever countenance snapping back sanctions no matter what Iran does.
Worst of all, the nuclear agreement is the product of President Obama’s delusion that the United States can transform an existentially hostile Iran into a regional ally, akin to President Nixon’s opening to China in 1972. Henry Kissinger — Nixon’s secretary of state — has deemed that analogy dangerous nonsense. He and George Schultz — President Reagan’s secretary of state — insist that America’s traditional allies in the Middle East have construed the nuclear deal as the Obama administration’s acquiescence to Iranian hegemony.
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President Trump’s initial moves — the president’s blunt talk on Iran, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s unqualified condemnation of Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, his choice of Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense, and his determination to rebuild the American military — bode well for restoring American power and prestige that eroded precipitously during the Obama presidency. We are, however, just beginning of repairing the damage. President Trump must stay the course. This entails, among other things, abrogating an Iranian nuclear deal that has feasted on the steroids of the Middle East’s trends toward sectarian upheaval, state collapse, and a disequilibrium of power tilting toward a revolutionary, virulently anti-American, increasingly bellicose Iran.
Robert G. Kaufman is a professor at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and author of “Dangerous Doctrine: How Obama’s Grand Strategy Weakened America.”