Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta admits that the Iran deal is bad, but says it provides an opportunity for the U.S. to become more aggressive in dealing with the Iranian regime.
In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, Panetta, a Californian who also served as head of the CIA, says that “the Iran deal provides the United States with an opportunity to define a policy of strength, not ambivalence, in the Middle East.”
Yet President Barack Obama has done the opposite, using the Iran deal as an way to cement Iran as a regional power, in pursuit of what he calls a “new equilibrium.”
Panetta’s argument is for a dramatic shift in Obama’s stance.
He concedes that critics of the Iran deal are right:
In itself, the Iran deal would appear to reward Tehran for defying the world, make funds available for its extremist activities and generally make it stronger militarily and economically. Although the agreement provides for a temporary delay in Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability, it allows Tehran to retain its nuclear infrastructure and obtain sanctions relief. The risk is that Iran could become an even bigger threat to the region.
He adds: “Let’s face it, given the situation in the Middle East, empowering Iran in any way seems like a dangerous gamble.” The deal, he says, is motivated by the fear of war, not sound strategy.
However, the deal could work if Obama would “make clear that the fundamental purpose…is not just to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions but to build a strong coalition that will confront both Iran and terrorism in the future.”
To that end, Panetta advocates several steps. First, the deal should be enforced harshly. Second, the U.S. must keep a strong military presence in the region. Third, the U.S. should expand its intelligence capabilities. Fourth, the U.S. should “[m]ake clear that force is an option.” Finally, the U.S. should build ties with regional allies.
The problem: Obama is explicitly opposed to most, if not all, of these steps. Panetta’s argument is really for a tougher president.