BY LEE SMITH
The Weekly Standard
NOV 2, 2015
Last week, Senate and House Democrats threw a party to celebrate the adoption day of Obama’s Iran deal. Ninety days after the White House signed the deal in Vienna, Obama directed the United States government to lift sanctions on Iran, the Democrats listened to a string ensemble in Washington, and all present pretended it was a joyous occasion.
The Iranians at least have honest cause for celebration. Shortly after adoption day, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced his qualified approval of the deal. It’s fine, said Khamenei, so long as no one tries to reimpose sanctions on Iran. In that case, Tehran will walk away from the deal, having already pocketed hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief and new commerce.
No matter what the White House has claimed about its cleverly designed mechanisms to keep the Iranians from cheating, there will be no “snap-back” sanctions on Iran, nor will there will be any pushback on Iranian aggression across the region, as the White House also promised. If the administration tries it, Iran will abandon the deal—Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. In other words, Khamenei is effectively in the driver’s seat in the Middle East—as he has been since the beginning of Obama’s presidency in 2009, when Obama handed over the wheel.
Future historians of this period will be grateful for the relative transparency of the regime in Tehran, as they would otherwise be forced to decode years of nonstop spin from the Obama administration. Unlike the White House’s various friends in the media and academy, Khamenei tells it like it is. For instance, according to a Khamenei tweet last week, Obama promised in two letters that the United States would not seek to topple the clerical regime.
Such promises are the opposite of what you would expect from a savvy negotiator, who might have used such a threat to drive a harder bargain with the Iranians. But Obama was credulous rather than savvy, and was led to understand that he could hardly expect the Iranian regime to negotiate with a superpower that threatened its existence. Obama thought that if he wanted to make a deal with Tehran, and thereby secure his historical legacy, he would have to provide assurances. And he made good on his promise to Khamenei in June 2009, when the Green movement took to the Iranian streets to protest an almost certainly fraudulent election. Obama said too little and way too late—the moment of crisis passed, and ever since the regime has been secure.
It’s interesting to note that a U.S. assurance to forswear regime change was one of the key bargaining chips outlined in what’s come to be known as the Grand Bargain. You may recall that more than a decade ago, during the Bush administration, there was talk of a sweeping deal between the United States and Iran that would resolve a host of outstanding issues, especially the nuclear weapons program. Leaving aside whether any such deal was ever on the table, it’s instructive to look at some of the alleged terms of the deal and compare them with what this White House has in fact accomplished.
In exchange for, among other things, Iran’s ceasing its support of terrorism, agreeing to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and ending attempts to develop or possess weapons of mass destruction, the United States would not only leave the regime in peace, but also acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich uranium, respect its regional security interests, and lift all sanctions. These were all issues that were supposed to be resolved through the course of negotiations. Instead Obama gave the Iranians what they wanted up-front.
In another letter to Khamenei, Obama acknowledged Iranian security interests when he promised that he wasn’t going to touch Iran’s ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria. As for acknowledging Tehran’s right to enrich uranium, Iranian negotiators made this a precondition for talks. The White House also provided sanctions relief that allowed the Iranian economy to start to recover. It seems that the whole point of the negotiating process, as the White House saw it, wasn’t to get anything in return, but rather to make the world’s leading state sponsor of terror feel safe, and show them they could at last trust America. It’s hardly surprising that Obama got nothing in exchange for handing away almost everything.
Iran isn’t curbing its support for terror. Rather, Tehran’s war in Syria is evidence it is ramping up its support for terrorism. Last week’s ballistic missile test shows that Iran has no intention of stopping any part of its nuclear weapons program, including the delivery mechanism for a weapon of mass destruction. Nor is the White House overly concerned that Iran comply with the IAEA. Whether Iran satisfies the nuclear inspection agency’s concerns regarding the possible military dimensions of the program, the administration said last week, is between Tehran and the IAEA.
So, the White House pretends, there’s not a thing the United States can do about Iran’s behavior. Of course there’s lots the United States could do, but it would mean saying enough is enough and trashing the deal. But a choice between actually protecting American interests, allies, and our national security, and safeguarding what has been fancifully sold as an Obama foreign policy achievement, is for the Obama White House no choice at all.
Lee Smith is an American journalist, and senior editor for The Weekly Standard. He is the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.
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