Defenders of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy have been having a very rough week as protesters flood the streets of Iranian cities to demand the end of the theocratic government Obama supported.
They appear to be settling on a narrative that the nuclear deal was somehow working to reform the government Iranians are risking their lives to denounce, and President Donald Trump is frittering away that success by speaking out too strongly against the Rouhani and Khamenei regime in Iran.
The editors of the Washington Post claim the protests are proof that the Iranian regime is not the “regional juggernaut” of alarmist imagination anyway, and the best thing Trump can do to help the protesters is to abandon his objections to Obama’s nuclear deal:
So far the guards appear to be waiting on the sidelines while Mr. Rouhani, a relative moderate in the complex Iranian political system, offers conciliatory messages. On Sunday he recognized that the demonstrators had legitimate grievances and nominally accepted their right to protest. The Trump administration and other Western governments should aim to hold him to those words through diplomacy and the threat of sanctions in the event of more bloodshed. Western leaders should also do what they can to support peaceful protests, including by looking for ways to help Iranians communicate with one another as the regime restricts the Internet.
At the same time, Mr. Trump should avoid acts that would undercut the protests and empower the regime’s hard-liners. Foremost among these would be a renunciation of the 2015 nuclear accord. That would divide the United States from European governments when they should be coordinating their response to the uprising, and it would give the regime an external threat against which to rally. Reform of the nuclear accord can wait. Now is the time for Mr. Trump to focus on supporting the people of Iran.
This perpetuates the fundamental fiction of a “moderate” versus “hardline” government that drove Obama’s Iran policy, coupled with the equally false conviction that the Shiite theocracy was ready to become a responsible member of the world community, and would make a better regional ally for American than the Sunni monarchies we have traditionally aligned with.
The Iranian people most certainly are not buying the fiction that Rouhani is the reasonable moderate “good cop” to Khamenei’s fundamentalist “bad cop.” They have been shouting “Death to Rouhani!” with as much energy as “Death to Khamenei!”
One of the core objectives of the nuclear deal, stated many times by its advocates, was to strengthen the “moderates” and marginalize the “hardliners” by pumping billions of dollars in trade into the moribund Iranian economy, along with delivering the odd pallet of cash to Tehran. This aspect of the nuclear deal stands revealed as an utter and complete failure. It is an error on par with Obama underestimating the Islamic State, turning Libya into a terrorist-haunted wasteland of slave-trading warlords, blindly supporting the “Arab Spring” as a democracy movement rather than the Islamist takeover it was, and opening the door to Russian influence in Syria.
The nuclear deal did not strengthen any moderates. It gave the Iranian regime funding for an enormous surge in foreign adventurism, arming and strengthening its proxies from Yemen and Syria to Iraq and Lebanon. Iran thinks the nuclear deal gave it permanent immunity to all international sanctions and has been emboldened accordingly. Money flowed into missile research projects, while U.S. countermeasures were denounced as violations of Obama’s deal. Iranian weapons have been smuggled into conflict zones across the Middle East in defiance of United Nations resolutions.
The armed forces of the hardliners, the Khamenei regime that functions as a second Iranian tyranny with its own army and economy, are stronger than ever. The Iranian people were instructed to view the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as conquering heroes for their foreign adventures, which included attacks on U.S. allies in Iraq, and may soon include a terrorist war against Israel. The Trump administration did not apply sanctions against the IRGC because they are growing less dangerous. The IRGC is currently threatening to crush the protest movement, and the Trump administration is warning of even harsher sanctions if they do.
None of this was supposed to be happening in the moderate Iran envisioned by Obama policy, focused on developing its economy and eager to develop stronger ties with the West. And it is important to note the protesters are objecting to every one of these developments in no uncertain terms. They are collectively issuing a devastating critique of Obama’s Iran policy and challenging every one of its particulars. The media action line until now was that Trump’s criticism of the nuclear deal played into the hands of the hardliners but, clearly, the reverse is true.
An exchange between Obama CIA Director John Brennan and Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer concisely summarizes the clash of visions:
With wholesale condemnation of Iran and nuclear deal over past year, Trump Admin squandered opportunity to bolster reformists in Tehran and prospects for peaceful political reform in Iran. Bluster is neither a strategy nor a mechanism for exercise of U.S. power and influence.
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) January 2, 2018
With wholesale acquiescence to Iran in order to get a nuclear deal, Obama Admin squandered opportunity to bolster reformists in Tehran and prospects for peaceful reform in Iran. Rolling over is neither a strategy nor a mechanism for exercise of U.S. power and influence. https://t.co/PL3XO3qLTW
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) January 3, 2018
No wonder so much of the American media establishment is uncomfortable with covering the uprising, and desperate to find pro-government counter protests they can write about instead— even when it is painfully obvious they have been staged by the regime.
In this age of constant virtue signaling, it is sad to see the media lecture Trump about failing to follow Europe’s lead on Iran, when the Europeans are mostly interested in protecting the big-money deals they worked out with the regime. The atmosphere in Europe has been one of increasingly uncomfortable and embarrassed silence as the body count mounts in Iran, not principled leadership.
Europe might be slowly moving in Trump’s direction anyway, as evidenced by a testy phone call Tuesday between French President Emmanuel Macron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Macron reportedly expressed concerns about the number of protesters killed and warned him to respect freedom of speech. Rouhani wanted Macron to crack down on Iranian exiles in France.
For the first time since Obama’s nuclear deal, the influence of the Iranian regime is diminishing, and it is exactly what needed to happen. We can only wonder if all of this might have happened sooner, destroying the Iranian theocracy more comprehensively and with less bloodshed, if President Obama had not worked so hard to remove the sanctions that weakened both the semi-secular and hardcore religious tyrannies in Tehran.