Former President Barack Obama once accused opponents of the Iran deal of making “common cause” with America’s enemies.
In keeping with his slanderous allegation, since May 5, when National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf, the Iranian regime and former Obama administration officials have been singing from the same song sheet.
As Matthew Continetti summarized at the Washington Free Beacon, within hours of Bolton’s announcement, former Obama officials and Iranian government leaders began reciting the same talking points. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, former chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman, and a host of other Obama administration and Iranian regime officials made the same arguments.
They all set Bolton up as the bogeyman. President Donald Trump may not want to go to war, they allowed, but Bolton does. And Bolton is running Trump, they intoned, each in turn.
And they continued. U.S. war hawks are making allegations against Iran – that it sabotaged oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and attacked them with drones. Iran denies the allegations. And since Iran denies the allegations, they can’t be true.
Finally, they all arrived that the same point. The only way to bring about peace is to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iranian nuclear deal.
The Obama alumni’s melding of their echo chamber with the Iranian government’s propaganda machine isn’t a surprise. As Lee Smith at Tablet online magazine demonstrated, the purpose of the nuclear deal was not to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The purpose of the deal was to realign U.S. Middle East policy away from Israel and the Sunni Arab states and towards Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. To that end, the U.S. and its partners agreed to legitimize Iran’s nuclear program and to enrich the regime to the tune of $150 billion. The nuclear deal they concluded with Iran was not a non-proliferation deal. It did not block Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. As then-President Barack Obama himself admitted, the deal paved Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. And it did so while aligning the Democratic party with the Iranian regime. Along the way, the JCPOA threw 70 years of U.S. non-proliferation policy into the garbage can, and cemented the Democratic party’s hostility to both Israel and its American Jewish supporters.
Given the nuclear deal’s actual purpose, it is no surprise that Obama’s former advisors and flaks have stood with Iran against the Trump administration even as U.S. intelligence agencies and allies have discovered that Iran intends to harm U.S. personnel and interests in the Middle East. Indeed, it is no surprise that former Secretary of State John Kerry is advising the Iranian regime to wait Trump out and hope that the Democrats win the 2020 presidential race.
As they did when they sold the nuclear deal to the U.S. public in 2015, today Ben Rhodes, Sherman, Zarif, and their comrades present U.S. policy towards Iran as a binary choice.
First, they say that the nuclear deal promoted peace and that the U.S. should return to the JCPOA to secure peace. But as its critics warned it would, the JCPOA did the opposite. By empowering and enriching Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, the JCPOA fomented further war and destabilization from Syria to Gaza to Lebanon to Yemen and on to Europe.
Second, they claim that the only option for dealing with Iranian aggression outside the JCPOA is to invade Iran. Obama’s spin master Ben Rhodes explicitly alleged that this is what Trump is planning in an op-ed in the Washington Post last week.
Rhodes wrote, “The Iraq War showed us all what happens when exaggerations and lies are weaponized to justify an ideological push for war… Now a similar cycle of deception may be repeating itself with President Trump’s increasingly belligerent posture on Iran.”
Today, as then, the binary choice Iran and its partners in the Obama echo chamber present — war with Trump or peace with Obama’s nuclear deal — is fiction. These aren’t choices at all. No one in the administration is talking about going to war against Iran. And again, by enriching Iran and guaranteeing it would become a nuclear-armed state within a decade, the JCPOA guaranteed war and instability in the Middle East and Europe.
Trump is not lying his way into an invasion of Iran. He is implementing a realistic strategy for denying Iran the ability to develop nuclear weapons and massively constraining its ability to sow and wage war through its proxies throughout the Middle East. And while Trump’s policy of maximum pressure bears no comparison to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, it does bear striking similarities to America’s policy towards Iraq in the interregnum between the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War.
For 13 years, U.S. policy towards Iraq combined crippling sanctions with intermittent military strikes on regime targets and weapons of mass destruction installations. The success of the policy, and particularly the Clinton administration’s 1998 Operation Desert Fox, only became clear after the U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Following the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. and its allies imposed no-fly zones on northern and southern Iraq to protect the Kurds and the Shiites, who had been ferociously repressed by Saddam following the Gulf War. The UN Security Council placed powerful economic sanctions on Iraq to force it to reveal and hand over its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and materiel, as well as its ballistic missiles. The UN imposed an inspections regime on Iraq to verify compliance.
In December 1998, after the UN concluded that Saddam was not providing UN inspectors with access to his weapons of mass destruction installations, then-President Bill Clinton, along with then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair commenced Operation Desert Fox. During the course of the four-day operation, U.S. and British forces targeted Iraq’s WMD facilities and the regime’s capacity to employ domestic terror and coercion against Iraqi citizens. Then-U.S. area commander Gen. Anthony Zinni was convinced that it nearly brought about Saddam’s overthrow.
While panned as a failure at the time, after the U.S. invaded Iraq, the dimensions of Desert Fox’s success were revealed. David Kay, who oversaw the Iraq Survey Group that was deployed to Iraq to locate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and assess the status of its WMD capabilities and intentions after Saddam’s overthrow, had been critical of Desert Fox in 1998 because it induced a prolonged suspension of UN inspections. But in October 2003, after returning from Iraq, Kay testified to Congress, “Information found to date suggests that Iraq’s large-scale capability to develop, produce, and fill new CW [chemical weapons] munitions was reduced – if not entirely destroyed – during Operation Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of UN sanctions and UN inspections.”
Kay also said, “[T]o date, we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material.”
In the present case of Iran, earlier this week Michael Pregent of the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, posted two graphics on his Twitter page. Together they demonstrated that like the interregnum policy of maximum pressure on Iraq, Trump’s policy of maximum pressure on Iran is similarly squeezing Iran both regionally and domestically.
Together with its allies, the U.S. has checked Iran’s power at home and abroad. Any offensive action Iran takes will reduce its options and weaken it still further. If Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz, the U.S., having defined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization, can bomb IRGC naval craft implementing the closure. Moreover, Pregent notes, Iran’s action would foment its abandonment by the EU.
So, too, as the EU’s firm response to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s announcement that Iran will begin stockpiling uranium and plutonium in defiance of the JCPOA made clear, if Iran abandons the JCPOA, the EU is likely to join the U.S. in reimposing sanctions on Iran. Russia and China would be unwilling to float Iran’s economy in such a scenario, Pregent concludes.
Before the maximum pressure campaign was implemented, Iran could deter the U.S. and its allies by threatening to attack Israel through its Hezbollah proxy force in Lebanon with its arsenal of 150,000 missiles pointing at Israel. According to the Washington Post, today, due to the U.S. economic sanctions, Hezbollah is cash-strapped and asking the Lebanese people to donate to its coffers while laying off non-essential personnel. Under the circumstances, and with Israel bombing its supply lines through Syria, Pregent contends that Hezbollah will not be able to sustain a prolonged war against Israel.
The actions the U.S. will need to take if its maximum pressure campaign escalates militarily are confined to bombing Iranian military nuclear facilities, naval craft, and proxy forces in Iraq. None of these actions require the U.S. to deploy forces to Iran or increase significantly the number of U.S. forces deployed to Iraq. Israel will continue to bomb IRGC and Iranian proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon. And, as Pregent notes, the main ground action the U.S. may undertake through its forces already on the ground in Iraq is to block Iran’s land bridge across Iraq to Syria.
Like Desert Fox, all the options on the table for the U.S. are limited and achievable with the resources the U.S. now has in the Middle East. Owing to the Trump administration’s policy of maximum pressure, Iran is in an economic crisis that constrains its options and actions at home and abroad. True, Iran’s response to U.S. moves are unknowable. But each successive U.S. move limits Iran’s maneuver room still further.
The Iraq War was such a polarizing undertaking that it made rational analysis of U.S. policy regarding Iran all but impossible. But the fact is that for 13 years, from 1991 through 2003, the U.S. implemented a policy of maximum pressure on Iraq. Like Trump’s policy regarding Iran, it combined economic sanctions with limited military operations carried out largely from the air. And as the U.S. belatedly learned in 2003, it was successful.
There is every reason to believe that Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran will similarly succeed. That is why the Obama alumni and the Iranian regime hate it so much.
Caroline Glick is a world-renowned journalist and commentator on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East. Read more at www.CarolineGlick.com.