The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon published a thorough report last Friday about how President Obama’s Iran deal has strengthened the hand of Iran’s hardliners. What is most breathtaking in the story is the degree to which American policy is divorced from reality.
How could the deal, which injects over $100 billion (probably way over that amount) into the Tehran regime’s coffers, have done anything but strengthened the hardliners’ hand? Of course it could not. Yet Obama’s policy walks an incoherent line between conceding that fact and wishfully thinking it were not so. Thus, Mr. Solomon writes,
The Obama administration’s nuclear deal was intended to keep Iran from pursuing an atomic bomb, and raised hope in the West that Tehran would be nudged toward a more moderate path.
U.S. and European officials had hoped the nuclear accord would broaden cooperation with Tehran, and empower Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to promote democratic change. He was elected in 2013 on a platform to end the nuclear standoff and build bridges to the West.
As much as $100 billion in frozen revenues are expected to return to Iran after sanctions are lifted, which U.S. officials said could happen in coming weeks. The White House hoped the cash windfall would aid Mr. Rouhani’s political fortunes.
To summarize: you are to understand from this that the administration and its allies in the P5+1 negotiations over the deal believed that the deal would (a) moderate the regime’s behavior (notwithstanding that the more aggressively Iran behaved, the more inclined Obama was to appease it), and (b) strengthen the position of the purportedly moderate, reformist president Rouhani (notwithstanding that he is only president because he was allowed to run by the Shiite ayatollahs who actually control the country, and who he has made a career of faithfully serving).
Yet, at the same time, Solomon reports:
Iranian academics close to Mr. Rouhani are increasingly concerned Mr. Khamenei will use the money and diplomatic rewards [from the deal] to entrench hard-line allies, at the expense of the president.
Many of the companies about to be removed from international blacklists are part of military and religious foundations, including some that report directly to Mr. Khamenei. Those firms could be the first to benefit from the rush of international businesses looking to profit from the lifting of sanctions.
Moreover, we learn that:
“The guiding assumption was that Iran would not moderate its behavior,” said Rob Malley, President Barack Obama ’s top Mideast adviser. “The president considered [it] absolutely critical to get this nuclear deal because we had no assessment that in the foreseeable future, Iran would change its approach.”
That is, there are moments when reality is permitted to intrude on the progressive fantasy that rogues will evolve into normal political actors when they are treated as if they were normal political actors (i.e., when you show them that aggression works, it will somehow incentivize them to cease, rather than increase, their aggression.) In those fleeting interludes of reality during the negotiations, Obama and his minions actually assumed that Iran would not moderate its behavior because they fully understood that the billions flowing into Iran from the deal would be controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the hardliners who actually run Iran, not by President Rouhani. Meaning: at a gut level, administration officials realized there was no way the deal could bolster Rouhani’s position because – even assuming for argument’s sake that Rouhani really is a moderate reformer – he is not in charge. He is just a cat’s paw of Khamenei.
Khamenei has long been on record referring to the United States as “the enemy” and calling for our “death.” He repeatedly thumbed his nose at Obama’s desperate back-channel efforts at forging ties with the regime. And, most infuriatingly, as Solomon’s report details, Obama and his advisers decided, after much consideration, to turn a deaf ear to Green Revolution democracy protesters in 2009, quite deliberately choosing instead to prioritize Obama’s personal outreach to Khamenei. In the event, the regime killed 150 Iranians in the streets, jailing and exiling thousands more.
Yet, Obama’s consistent message to Khamenei was “hey, we can work it out.”
With every concrete demonstration that rogues become more aggressive when appeased, Obama doubled- and tripled-down on his appeasement strategy.
So what happens? Against all reason, Obama makes a deal that he keeps saying will stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear bomb, despite knowing that (a) the deal, even if Iran complies with it, would leave Iran a threshold nuclear weapons power with a thriving, industrial-size nuclear energy program; and (b) Iran will not moderate its behavior, which obviously means it will not moderate its pursuit of nuclear weapons – why else, after all, would it continue energetic work on a ballistic missiles program that only makes rational sense if the regime plans to put nuclear warheads on the ballistic missiles?
Dizzy yet? Obama seems to know that Iran will not change, yet cannot help himself from indulging the ideological nostrum that rogues change when you treat them with “dignity” and “respect.” So he makes the deal that enriches and empowers Iran … and how does Iran inevitably respond? Here’s Solomon again:
Since completion of the agreement in July, Tehran security forces, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have stepped up arrests of political opponents in the arts, media and the business community, part of a crackdown aimed at ensuring Mr. Khamenei’s political allies dominate national elections scheduled for Feb. 26, according to Iranian politicians and analysts.
“Americans have set their eyes covetously on elections, but the great and vigilant nation of Iran will act contrary to the enemies’ will, whether it be in elections or on other issues, and as before will punch them in the mouth,” he told a meeting of prayer leaders this week….
And in a challenge to the U.S., Iran in recent weeks tested two ballistic missiles and fired rockets near U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf.
In addition, shades of 1979, Iran’s security forces obviously aided and abetted an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran by Iranian “protesters” last week – a response to escalating Iranian-Saudi tensions in the region.
So what now? Why, the administration proceeds pell-mell toward implementation of the deal to enrich and empower our enemies in the hope that they will become friends – but with the realization that they will not.
According to The Hill, not only will Obama resist congressional calls for new sanctions based on Iran’s ballistic missile tests (which violate Iran’s international law obligations); Secretary of State Kerry has announced that the formal implantation of the Iran deal by Obama’s lifting of existing sanctions could be just “days away,” and will happen, in any event, “sooner rather than later.”
Obama is incontestably providing lavish aid and comfort to what is, in the defiant words of Iran’s own leader, America’s enemy. Treason is the only criminal offense defined in the Constitution; under article III, section 3, it includes “giving … Aid and Comfort” to “Enemies” of the United States. Yet, Obama is acting in the hope that Iran will cease being an enemy while conceding that Iran will continue being an enemy. The president dreams that there are progressive forces that will moderate the regime, but fully realizes that the regime will not change.
Such cognitive dissonance seems less like treason than insanity.