The Op­por­tu­ni­ties and Risks of Trump’s Iran Ini­tia­tive

Trump lays the ground­work for a real strat­egy against Iran to be­gin

The Jewish Voice - - OP-ED - By: Caro­line Glick

Two weeks ago on Fri­day, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ini­ti­ated an im­por­tant change in US pol­icy to­ward Iran. No, in his speech de­cer­ti­fy­ing Iran’s com­pli­ance with the nu­clear ac­cord it struck with his pre­de­ces­sor Barack Obama, Trump didn’t an­nounce a new strat­egy for pre­vent­ing Iran from ac­quir­ing nu­clear weapons, or stem­ming its hege­monic rise in the Mid­dle East, or lim­it­ing its abil­ity to spon­sor ter­ror­ism.

Trump’s move was not op­er­a­tional. It was di­rec­tional.

In his ad­dress Trump changed the pol­icy dy­nam­ics that dic­tate US pol­icy on Iran. For the first time since 2009, when Obama backed the murderous regime in Tehran, spurn­ing the mil­lions of Ira­ni­ans who rose up in the Green Rev­o­lu­tion, Trump opened up the pos­si­bil­ity that the US may be­gin to base its poli­cies to­ward Iran on re­al­ity.

Trump be­gan his re­marks by set­ting out Iran’s long rap sheet of ag­gres­sion against Amer­ica.

Start­ing with the US em­bassy seizure and hostage cri­sis, Trump described Iran’s crimes and acts of war against Amer­ica in greater de­tail than any of his pre­de­ces­sors ever did.

Trump’s dossier was in­ter­laced with con­dem­na­tions of the regime’s re­pres­sion of its own peo­ple.

By merg­ing Iran’s ex­ter­nal ag­gres­sion with its in­ter­nal re­pres­sion, Trump sig­naled a readi­ness to drive a wedge – or ex­pand the wedge – be­tween the au­thor­i­tar­ian theocrats that rule Iran and the largely sec­u­lar, mul­ti­eth­nic and pro-Western peo­ple of Iran.

Trump then turned his at­ten­tion to Iran’s il­licit bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram, its spon­sor­ship of ter­ror­ism, in­clud­ing its links to al-Qaida, its ag­gres­sion against its neigh­bors, its ag­gres­sive acts against mar­itime traf­fic in the Straits of Hor­muz, and its bids to desta­bi­lize and con­trol large swaths of the Mid­dle East through its prox­ies.

It is notable that these re­marks pre­ceded Trump’s dis­cus­sion of the nu­clear deal – which was the os­ten­si­ble sub­ject of his speech. Be­fore Trump dis­cussed Iran’s breaches of the nu­clear deal, he fi st demon­strated that con­trary to the ex­pressed views of his top ad­vis­ers, it is im­pos­si­ble to limit a re­al­is­tic dis­cus­sion of the threat Iran con­sti­tutes to US na­tional se­cu­rity and in­ter­ests to whether or not and it what man­ner it is breach­ing the nu­clear ac­cord.

This was a crit­i­cal point be­cause for the past two years, US dis­course on Iran has fo­cused solely on whether or not Iran was com­ply­ing with Obama’s nu­clear pact. By plac­ing the nu­clear deal in the con­text of Iran’s con­sis­tent, over­ar­ch­ing hos­til­ity and ag­gres­sion, Trump made it self-ev­i­dent that no US in­ter­est is served in con­tin­u­ing to give Iran a free pass from con­gres­sional sanc­tions.

Af­ter ac­com­plish­ing that goal, Trump turned his at­ten­tion to how Iran is ac­tu­ally breach­ing the let­ter and spirit of the nu­clear pact. Only then, al­most as an af­ter­thought, did he an­nounce that he was de­cer­ti­fy­ing Ira­nian com­pli­ance with the nu­clear deal, set­ting the con­di­tions for the re­newal of con­gres­sional sanc­tions on Iran and open­ing the fl odgates of con­gres­sional sanc­tions on Iran in re­tal­i­a­tion for the full spec­trum of its ag­gres­sive and il­licit acts against the US, its in­ter­ests and al­lies.

By em­pow­er­ing Congress to pro­hibit eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion with Iran, Trump put the Euro­peans, Chinese and Rus­sians on no­tice that they may soon face a choice be­tween con­duct­ing busi­ness with the US and con­duct­ing busi­ness with Iran.

Af­ter putting them on no­tice, Trump dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of im­prov­ing Obama’s nu­clear ac­cord. Among other things, he sug­gested ex­pand­ing the in­spec­tion regime against Iran’s nu­clear in­stal­la­tions and can­cel­ing the so-called “sun­set” clause that places an end date on the re­stric­tions gov­ern­ing cer­tain com­po­nents of Iran’s nu­clear ad­vance­ment.

Trump’s ad­dress has the po­ten­tial to serve as the foun­da­tion of a ma­jor, pos­i­tive shift in US pol­icy to­ward Iran. Such a shift could po­ten­tially fa­cil­i­tate the achieve­ment of Trump’s goals of pre­vent­ing Iran from ac­quir­ing nu­clear weapons, con­tain­ing its re­gional ag­gres­sion and em­pow­er­ment and de­feat­ing its ter­ror­ist prox­ies.

Un­for­tu­nately, it is also likely, in­deed, it is more likely, that his words will not be trans­lated into poli­cies to achieve these crit­i­cal aims.

Trump’s de­ci­sion to trans­fer im­me­di­ate re­spon­si­bil­ity to Congress for hold­ing Iran ac­count­able for its hos­tile ac­tions on the mil­i­tary and other fronts is a risky move. He has a lot of en­e­mies, and the nu­clear deal has a lot of sup­port­ers on Capi­tol Hill.

Obama would have never been able to im­ple­ment his nu­clear deal if Se­na­tor Bob Corker, chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, hadn’t agreed to cast the Con­sti­tu­tion aside and ig­nore Obama’s con­sti­tu­tional duty to present the nu­clear deal to the Se­nate for ratific tion as a treaty.

Over the past week, Trump and Corker have been in­volved in an ugly public fi ht pre­cip­i­tated by Corker’s an­nounce­ment that he will not be seek­ing re­elec­tion next year.

To­day Corker has noth­ing to re­strain him from scut­tling Trump’s agenda. If he wishes, out of spite, Corker can block ef­fec­tive sanc­tions from be­ing passed. And he may do so even though the im­pli­ca­tions for his Se­nate col­leagues would be dire and even though do­ing so would ren­der him an un­of­fi­cia pro­tec­tor of Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

What is true for Corker is dou­bly true for the Democrats.

Lead­ing Demo­cratic sen­a­tors like Robert Me­nen­dez, Ben Cardin and Chuck Schumer, who op­posed Obama’s Iran deal may now feel that as op­po­nents of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, they are re­quired to op­pose any change to the Iran Nu­clear Agree­ment Re­view Act.

In­deed, given the rise of rad­i­cal forces in their party it is likely that they would rather give Iran a free pass for its anti-Amer­i­can ag­gres­sion and nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion than work with Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill and in the White House.

Then again, by fram­ing the is­sue of Iran’s threat to Amer­ica as he did, and by trans­fer­ring re­spon­si­bil­ity for re­in­stat­ing sanc­tions and pass­ing fur­ther sanc­tions on Iran to Congress, Trump opened up the pos­si­bil­ity that Congress will con­duct sub­stan­tive – rather than per­sonal – de­bates on Iran.

And the more sub­stan­tive those de­bates be­come, the fur­ther away the US dis­course will move from the men­da­cious as­sump­tions of Obama’s Iran pol­icy – that the Ira­nian regime is a re­spon­si­ble ac­tor and po­ten­tial US ally, and that there is noth­ing in­her­ently ag­gres­sive or

prob­lem­atic about Iran’s il­licit nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

The sec­ond ma­jor risk in­her­ent in Trump’s ap­proach is that he will get his way; that the Euro­peans, Rus­sians and Chinese and the Ira­ni­ans will agree to im­prove the nu­clear deal. The prob­lem here is not ob­vi­ous. Clearly, it is bet­ter if the deal is amended to delete the sun­set clauses and ex­pand the in­spec­tions regime.

Yet even an amended, im­proved deal will still serve as a shield to Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram. An im­proved deal won’t de­stroy Iran’s cen­trifuges.

It won’t take away Iran’s en­riched ura­nium. It won’t de­stroy Iran’s nu­clear in­stal­la­tions. And it won’t bring down the regime which by its na­ture en­sures all of these things will re­main a men­ace to the US, its al­lies and in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity as a whole.

So long as the US con­tin­ues to main­tain a pol­icy based on the false view that all that is nec­es­sary to de­stroy the threat of a nu­clear armed Iran is a com­bi­na­tion of the nu­clear deal and eco­nomic sanc­tions, it will con­tinue to en­sure that Iran and its nu­clear pro­gram re­main a ma­jor threat. Distress­ingly, US Am­bas­sador to the UN Nikki Ha­ley, the most out­spo­ken sup­porter of de­cer­ti­fy­ing Ira­nian com­pli­ance in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, told NBC on Sun­day that the US in­tends to re­main in the nu­clear deal.

To un­der­stand what must be done we must re­turn to Trump’s speech and its strate­gic sig­nific nce.

By tak­ing a holis­tic view of the Ira­nian threat – grounded in a recog­ni­tion of the in­her­ent hos­til­ity of the regime – Trump opened up the pos­si­bil­ity that the US and its al­lies can de­velop a holis­tic pol­icy for con­fronting and de­feat­ing Iran and its prox­ies. If the Iran deal and sanc­tions are two com­po­nents to a larger strat­egy rather than the en­tire strat­egy, they can be help­ful.

A wider strat­egy would tar­get Iran’s re­gional ag­gres­sion by weak­en­ing its prox­ies and clients from Hezbol­lah and Ha­mas to the regimes in Iraq, Ye­men, Syria and Le­banon. It would tar­get the regime it­self by em­pow­er­ing the ay­a­tol­lahs’ do­mes­tic op­po­nents. It would pin down Ira­nian forces by arm­ing and oth­er­wise as­sist­ing the Iraqi Kurds to de­fend and main­tain their con­trol over their ter­ri­tory along the Ira­nian bor­der while strength­en­ing the ties be­tween Ira­nian Kurds and Iraqi Kurds.

Trump cre­ated the pos­si­bil­ity for such a strat­egy. It is up to mem­bers of Congress, and US al­lies like Is­rael and the Sunni Arab states to help Trump con­ceive and im­ple­ment it. If they fail, the pos­si­bil­ity Trump cre­ated will be lost, per­haps ir­re­vo­ca­bly.

The Iran nu­clear deal failed to per­ma­nently cut off Iran's path to a nu­clear weapon, as well as thwart its Mid­dle East terror ac­tiv­i­ties, CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo said at a con­fer­ence last Thurs­day.

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