The Bad Iran-Obama Deal Was Always Going to Get Worse  

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meet in New York City in 2016.(Brendan McDermid / Reuters)

The Bad Iranian Deal Was Always Going to Get Worse


June 12, 2018 6:30 AMListen to article

The more we learn about it — as Iranian and Obama-administration deceptions are uncovered — the more we know it was a disaster from the start.

When Donald Trump withdrew from the so-called Iran deal in early May, almost all conventional wisdom in Washington was aghast.

The Left thought nullification would fast-track Iranian proliferation, incite more Iranian terrorism and adventurism, estrange our allies, and alienate a possible new friend.

Many on the conservative side (aside from Never Trumpers who are against anything Trump is for, including their own prior policies) thought it would have been wiser to back out slowly, or at least to have waited first for the duplicitous Iranians to get caught in clear violations, or to coordinate a joint withdrawal with the Europeans.

Few of these critics ever quite understood that the deal was already a stinking corpse, long overdue for burial. Iranian cunning and the strategic thinking about the asymmetrical deal had always aimed at the following trajectory:

Ostensibly postpone a bomb now, at a time when the regime was facing growing unrest and near bankruptcy from sanctions — and thus was in no position anyway to build an arsenal of bombs and missiles

Keep occasionally cheating to ensure the apparatus for bomb-making was successfully hibernated — and therefore easily restarted at a future date.

Enjoy hundreds of billions of dollars in new commercial income over the next ten to 15 years to quiet domestic unrest, and to bank enough cash to go fully nuclear in the future.

Forge the so-called Shiite Crescent to the Mediterranean, by dominating Bashir al-Assad’s weak Syria, exploring anti-Sunni possibilities in Yemen, and bulking up Hezbollah’s Lebanon, while stocking a huge arsenal of preemptive missiles based near Israel. Hope that Iran’s regional strategic stature would only improve over the next decade.

Expect natural breakthroughs in technology to make future bomb-making easier and cheaper when the accord expired.

There is no wonder, then, why almost every news story about the Iran deal has confirmed the wisdom of getting out of it.

1) On the eve of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dramatic televised disclosures of captured Iranian documents more or less confirmed the obvious: Iran never had any intention of forgoing its nuclear-bomb-making efforts, as implied by prior politicized national-intelligence estimates. The only mystery was why Iran had carefully recorded evidence of its own deception. In eerie fashion, it was almost as if at some future date Iran had planned to add insult to injury by reminding its mugged partners just how gullible they had been. Or perhaps some Iranian diplomatic grandees feared that in revolutionary Tehran, any purported appeasers would have been tried for treason, so they needed documentary evidence that they had been patriotic cheaters all along.

2) To swing the deal, the Obama administration sent advisers around the banking world to facilitate Iranian efforts to convert their released embargoed funds into Great Satan currency — a warping of the American financial system that was ostensibly illegal at the time. In other words, the Obama administration for some strange reason more or less went beyond the requirements of the Iran deal and used the U.S. government to help undermine its own restrictions on facilitating Iranian commerce and banking — while keeping the entire sordid mess quiet as they hectored skeptics of the deal as naïve or conspiratorial. Such habitual Obama-administration deception and conniving may explain why former secretary of state John Kerry this May so publicly and nonchalantly met Iranian representatives overseas, apparently seeing nothing wrong in the attempt to undermine the very policies of his own president. Old habits die hard.

3) Recently, we’ve seen more of the same Iranian self-congratulation for their own powers of deception — this time relating to the September 11 attacks. After the cancellation of the Iran deal, Iran’s state-controlled television mysteriously released the Farsi-language confessionals of one Mohammad-Javad Larijani. He is a supposed “international-affairs assistant” who conceded that Iranian intelligence officers had intentionally given the 9/11 al-Qaeda murderers safe transit through the Islamic Republic before 9/11. The natural logic is that only thanks to Iran’s complicity did the World Trade Center implode. One wonders to what degree Larijani’s bizarre boast is true or the sick and spiteful baiting of a sore loser — or whether the Obama administration knew of such rumored Iranian 9/11 involvement in 9/11 at the time of the Iran deal. In any case, Iran made official what most knew from 1979 onward: It has been in a perpetual war with the United States, whom it fears and hates.

4) Given the Iranian sense of inferiority and its tic of goading its hated Great Satan rival, expect more such disclosures in the future, as Iran now tries to humiliate the U.S. for its prior stupidity as recompense for its inability to leverage our imbecility any further.

5) With a wink and nod, Iran also announced that its supposedly mothballed nuclear facility at Natanz will restart uranium enrichment with new centrifuges, but for now theoretically in accordance with the Iran deal. We are supposed to think that the trustworthy Iranians would not have done that, or would not have been capable of doing that, had Trump just kept up the nonproliferation charade. Or is it worse than that? Are they again hinting that they the deal was so bad and their proliferation efforts so easily jump-started, that they have always had only contempt for those so stupid to take them at their word?

As Trump saw, contradictions always doomed the agreement.

For all practical purposes, the U.S. after 2015 was a de facto partner of the Iranian regime and quite astonishingly assumed that the American-hating, anti-Semitic regime ‘could be a very successful regional power.’

The deal, after all, was a monstrosity born out of desperation for an Obama signature legacy. Or was it a product of an ahistorical, naïve, and therapeutic view of human nature — assuming that even theocrats and thugs view generosity as outreach to be reciprocated in kind rather than as abject proof of weakness to be exploited to the fullest? Or worse still, the deal was the manifestation of an unhinged view of the Middle East. For Obama, a revolutionary Shiite and Persian Iran was justified in seeking parity in the Middle East and attempting to carve out a legitimate sphere of influence. The ascendance of such an Iranian crescent, at least in the view of the Obama administration, would “check” the influence of both democratic Israel and the so-called more moderate authoritarian Sunni regimes in the Gulf and Egypt and Jordan. To believe in such a yarn, Obama would have to have believed either in some sort of dramatic and looming Iranian revolution to overthrow the mullahs, or an absurd theocratic enlightenment, or that whatever Iran did would not be as pernicious as what its enemies in the Middle East were doing. No matter: For all practical purposes, the U.S. after 2015 was a de facto partner of the Iranian regime and quite astonishingly assumed that the American-hating, anti-Semitic regime “could be a very successful regional power.”

Where do we go from here?

The cards are all still in U.S. hands.

Sanctions will increasingly strangle the regime, despite the protest of profit-hungry but otherwise largely disarmed and colluding European regimes.

Israel has a more or less free hand to conduct preemptive strikes against the Iranian arsenal in Syria and Lebanon that are posed to strike the Jewish state.

Any possible North Korea deal will probably curtail the transfer of Chinese and North Korean nuclear technology to the Iranian regime.

Trump is already triangulating with Russia, and one element of such art of the deal-making could be a quid pro quo flipping of Russia from Iran and expelling them from Syria.

Given strong U.S. economic news, radical increases in U.S. energy development, and determination to recalibrate missile defense, America will get stronger in the years ahead as Iran grows weaker.

For the next two-and-a-half years, Iran is stuck with Donald Trump. If it tries to hijack another U.S. boat or sends another missile near an American carrier, Trump and defense secretary James Mattis will not react the same way Barack Obama did. Rather, they are likely to take military steps to preclude the Iranian ability ever again to replicate the aggression — a fact known to Iran, to the delight of its enemies and to the worry of its few friends.

The Iran deal was born in deceit, sold through deception, and kept alive by willful blindness.

Finally, if Iran makes serious new efforts to nuclearize, Egypt and Saudi Arabia may match Iran bomb for bomb. Iran would be facing three unpredictable Middle Eastern nuclear powers, in a neighborhood full of existing nuclear, volatile nations: China, India, Pakistan, and Russia.

The Iran deal was born in deceit, sold through deception, and kept alive by willful blindness. The more we were told it could not be nullified, the more malodorous it became. Nothing since its death has proven it wise; everything has confirmed it really was, in the words of Trump, “a “disaster.”

A final note. The looming “Korean deal” should be approached by employing the very opposite methodology used in Obama’s Iran deal: Be prepared to walk away; assume North Korea will cheat; do not separate its terrorist behavior or ballistic missiles from its promises to denuclearize; and focus on its nuclear patrons, without which there could be no North Korean bomb; expect even a denuclearized North Korea to remain an enemy of the U.S; do not invest presidential stature in the mercurial whims of a thug.

Victor Davis Hanson
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University; the author of THE SECOND WORLD WARS: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won; and a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness. @vdhanson

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