Saturday, March 21, 2015
Obama’s Iran Agenda
BY STEPHEN F. HAYES
Iran is an opportunity, not a threat; it’s a potential partner, not an enemy.
DESPERATELY IN SEARCH OF A LEGACY
For more than six years, this view of the Islamic Republic has guided the decisions made by Barack Obama. The president has repeatedly declared his eagerness to welcome Iran into the community of civilized nations. His words sometimes suggest that Iran has a choice to make, that their acceptance into this mythical community depends in some way on their behavior. But there’s little over those six years to indicate that he means it. Instead, Obama has made clear that in his eagerness to salvage anything from his tattered foreign policy legacy he is willing to gamble the security of the United States on a blind and irrational hope that Iran will someday change for the better.
To this end, he has abandoned more than three decades of bipartisan U.S. policy towards Iran—on its nuclear weapons program, on its regional ambitions, and on its support for terrorism.
These are radical departures. The Obama administration’s goal in nuclear talks is no longer preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons at all costs, but managing the process by which Iran becomes a nuclear state. The Obama administration no longer seeks to thwart Iran’s expansionist aims in the region and in many respects is now facilitating its aggression. On terrorism, the Obama administration has cast aside inconvenient realities about Iran’s support for jihadists of all kinds and has chosen instead to pretend that to the extent there any longer exists a war on terror, Washington and Tehran are on the same side.
At one point, the Obama administration signaled that its eagerness for a nuclear deal with Iran would be tempered by its insistence on a few simple demands. Iran would have to dismantle all but a few hundred early-generation centrifuges and stop work on advanced centrifuge design; the heavy-water reactor at Arak would be shut down, and the fortified underground nuclear facility at Fordow would be shuttered; Iran’s ballistic missile program would be frozen or perhaps even rolled back; and sanctions would only be lifted after intrusive inspections verified Iranian compliance with any agreements. If news accounts about details of an imminent deal are accurate, including an Associated Press report last week reportedly based on a draft agreement, the administration is poised to capitulate on all of these issues.
And what if Iran violates the terms of even this weak deal? There are good reasons to be concerned. When Iran signed the interim agreement (Joint Plan of Action) in November 2013, it agreed to freeze new centrifuge activities. Last fall, however, Iran started feeding hexafluoride gas (UF6) into the IR-5 centrifuge at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz—a new development. The International Atomic Energy Agency recorded the activity, the United States confronted Iran, and the feeding stopped. Despite this, President Obama has repeatedly declared Iran in compliance with the interim agreement. Then, last week, a senior administration official involved in the negotiations with Iran went even further to accommodate the Iranians. The violation was “probably a mistake,” read a Bloomberg report sourced to “U.S. officials negotiating with Iran.” According to the story, U.S. officials believe “Iran hadn’t technically violated the interim accord, which allowed some research and development activities to continue. What’s more, the person responsible was probably a low- or mid-level employee who wasn’t acting on orders from above, they said.” Probably? The obvious question: Why would Iran comply with the terms of any nuclear deal if the United States is eager to make excuses for violations?
Even as the nuclear talks continued, Iran moved aggressively to expand its influence in the region. The Iranian regime is spending lavishly to influence political, military, and intelligence officials in Afghanistan; it has played a decisive role in supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria, providing funding, arms, intelligence, and manpower to aid the slaughter of the Syrian people; it fomented the unrest in Yemen that led to the overthrow of a nominally pro-American government; and, perhaps most troubling, Iranian regime elements are operating freely in much of Iraq, fighting alongside Iraqi security forces and at times going much further, with credible reports of targeting and killing of Sunni civilians. U.S. policy on Iranian expansionism has weakened over the past decade. It has evolved from thwarting those efforts to tolerating them—and now, in some respects, to facilitating them.
We’ve seen a similar pattern on Iran and terror. Iran continues to fund Hamas and Hezbollah, using these proxies to conduct attacks in Israel and elsewhere in the region and beyond. In 2011, the Treasury Department designated six al Qaeda operatives working under a secret agreement with the Iranian regime. Three months later, Treasury designated Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security for facilitating “the movement of al Qaeda operatives in Iran” and providing “money and weapons to Al Qaeda in Iraq.” The agreement provided al Qaeda senior leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan with a “core pipeline” of support. In an interview with The Weekly Standard at the time, David Cohen, then a top Treasury official and now the number two at the CIA, said: “There is an agreement between the Iranian government and al Qaeda to allow this network to operate. There’s no dispute in the intelligence community.”
These are the hallmarks of a rogue regime, and Iran has shown no willingness to modify its behavior. A rational Iran policy would require that Iran stop its aggression and bring an end to its terrorism before the United States even considers engaging in negotiations on nuclear weapons. This is no rational Iran policy.
So from the beginning of these negotiations, the administration has sought to “decouple” the nuclear talks from the hostile behavior of the Iranian regime. Discussion of Iran’s increased regional aggression and its unceasing support for terrorists, including al Qaeda, has seemed to be out of bounds for U.S. negotiators.
Last week, The Weekly Standard sought answers from the White House to four questions about Iran’s support for al Qaeda.
Our questions were straightforward:
(1) Is there still an agreement between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda?
(2) Is the Iranian regime currently harboring al Qaeda operatives?
(3) Have U.S. negotiators raised this relationship in the context of ongoing nuclear negotiations?
(4) Have U.S. government officials raised this issue at all, in any context, with Iranian regime officials?
Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, sent us to the intelligence community for answers to the first two questions. A senior U.S. intelligence official tells TWS: “There has been no significant or substantive change in our assessment of the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda.” Meaning, it continues.
Meehan offered this as an answer to the final two questions. “You are no doubt aware that we have made very clear that the nuclear negotiations are focused exclusively on the nuclear issue, and do not include discussions of regional issues.”
That’s not exactly right.
According to a Wall Street Journal report last fall, Obama included both regional issues and terrorism in a letter he wrote to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, seeking to push the regime towards a nuclear agreement. Remarkably, the president didn’t challenge Iran on its aggression, and he didn’t confront the Iranian leader on his support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda. Instead, Obama green-lighted Iran’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. And his appeal to Khameini on terrorism did not involve a demand that Iran stop supporting the jihadist networks at war with America over the past two decades but a submissive suggestion that Iran and the United States might be allies against a common foe.
The administration is not, in fact, decoupling terrorism and regional aggression from the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Obama has made certain that they are part of the discussion. But rather than insist that Iran curb its destructive regional ambitions or end its lethal support for terror, the president has shown his willingness to tolerate, even condone, such behavior.
Obama puts the chances of a nuclear agreement with Iran at less than 50-50. Perhaps it’s not a certainty, but we think it’s considerably higher. The Obama administration is desperate for an accord, and Iran should be eager to accept a deal that provides a glide path to nuclear weapons.
If it happens, the media will celebrate such a deal as “groundbreaking” and hail Obama as a “historic” leader willing to look beyond the petty preoccupations of his predecessors.
And Obama will welcome into the civilized community of nations an Iranian regime that doesn’t deserve to be there.