Capstones | 7.24.15
By Alan W. Dowd
Obama is trumpeting a deal hammered out by U.S., European, Russian and Iranian
diplomats aimed at halting Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. But before
we usher in yet another era of peace in our time, let’s take a moment to
consider a few things that aren’t in the deal but tell us everything we need to
know about it.
The core problem with the deal is not in its details, but rather in the nature
of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The
president, hoping Iran lives up to his hopes, may believe Iran can be brought
in from the cold. But the hard truth is that Iran is a revolutionary
regime committed to using violence and terror to upend the established global
order. There’s really nothing like the government of Iran anywhere on earth.
Sure, other regimes make common cause with terrorists. But the men who run Iran
have normalized terrorism into a basic government function—just like building
roads and schools. This is not a regime that engages in terrorism, but rather a
terrorist organization that runs a regime.
Islamic Republic of Iran has been waging a global guerilla insurgency since its
birth 35 years ago. It engages in hostage-taking; sporadically threatens to
close the vital sea lanes of the Strait of Hormuz; provides weapons, training
and financial aid to Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah; plans mafia-style hits against foreign diplomats; and
trains, bankrolls and equips fighters in Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and
Syria. Indeed, Tehran is deeply engaged in supporting Bashar Assad in Syria (shoveling between $6 billion and $15
billion annually to the Syrian dictator) and Hezbollah in Lebanon (sending $200
million annually). Moreover, the Iranian government has waged a proxy war
against the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the blood of 500 American troops on its hands.
Joint Chiefs of Staff recently concluded in their National Military Strategy,
Iran “has undermined stability in many nations” and has “brought misery to
disarmament deal will provide Tehran with more resources to sow chaos. As
Dennis Ross, advisor to President Obama from 2009 to 2011, points out, the deal allows Tehran’s
terrorist tyranny to “regain access to as much as $150 billion in frozen
accounts in the coming year…it is inconceivable that the Revolutionary Guards
won’t receive a payoff that they can use for aggressive purposes with the
Shiite militias throughout the region.”
important, Iran is a serial violator of international nuclear agreements. The list is staggeringly long.
2002, dissident groups outed Iran’s illegal, clandestine nuclear-weapons
In 2003 and 2004, international nuclear inspectors reported that Iran had
breached agreements to suspend uranium-enrichment activity, including efforts
to manufacture and acquire centrifuges. Also in 2004, Pakistan confirmed that
A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s bomb, had shared his secrets with Tehran.
2009, international inspectors found that Iran understated by a third its
stocks of enriched uranium. Also in 2009, an illegal, secret, subterranean
nuclear facility ringed with missiles was discovered in the mountains near Qom.
that evidence came to light, Nicolas Sarkozy, then-president of France, challenged Washington
and the world to get serious. With refreshing bluntness, he detailed the
growing dangers in Iran. “Since 2005, Iran has violated five Security Council
resolutions,” he began. “An offer of dialogue was made in 2005, an offer of
dialogue was made in 2006, an offer of dialogue was made in 2007, an offer of
dialogue was made in 2008, and another one was made in 2009…what did the
international community gain from these offers of dialogue? Nothing. More
enriched uranium, more centrifuges, and on top of that, a statement by Iranian
leaders proposing to wipe a UN member state off the map…There comes a time when
facts are stubborn and decisions must be made.”
2010, the IAEA revealed evidence of “undisclosed activities” by the Iranian
military to develop a nuclear warhead.
2011, the IAEA concluded that Iran “carried out
activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.”
was suspected in 2013 that Iran conducted tests for nuclear-bomb triggers in
Parchin, the issue was not just papered over, but quite literally paved over by the Iranian military. The
IAEA had tried to gain access to the facility on more than 10 occasions.
recently as December 2014, U.S. agencies accused Iran of illegally acquiring
components to aid in the production of weapons-grade plutonium.
pays to recall something often forgotten or overlooked: Iran is a signatory to
the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which means much of its nuclear program is
suspect—Iran has enough oil to meet its current energy demands for 256 years—and
all of its weapons-related activities are illegal.
short, this is a regime that cannot and should not be trusted. No matter what
the president promises, this deal does not allow for the sort of
unfettered access and failsafe monitoring necessary to keep a dishonest partner
honest. Treaties are only as good as the character of the governments that
agree to them—or the unpleasantness of the consequences of breaking them. The
character of the Islamic Republic of Iran is so low that the consequences and
costs of breaking this treaty must be very high. Regrettably, that’s lacking in
this treaty, which the White House refuses to call on treaty. (Congress, by the way, is
considering the deal under procedures that turn the treaty-review process on its head, but that’s a
subject for another essay.)
Iran violates this deal,” the president counters, “the sanctions we imposed
that have helped cripple the Iranian economy…would snap back into place
promptly.” That’s a good applause line, but there’s little substance to these
“snap-back sanctions.” It took six years for the Bush and Obama administrations
to cajole Europe, Russia and the UN Security Council into agreeing on economic
sanctions against Iran. If/when Iran backslides, it’s likely the United States
would re-apply its sanctions, but the notion that Europe or Russia would follow
suit is fanciful. This calls to mind a telling insight about President Obama
from former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, which David Rothkopf
includes in his book “National Insecurity.” According to Brzezinski, the
president “has this personal characteristic somewhere in his mind that
articulating something and defining it is the equivalent of action.”
the Great War, President Theodore Roosevelt repeatedly pointed out the “utter
worthlessness of treaties” and how they “offer not even the smallest protection
against such disasters.” Importantly, these words come from a man who believed
in diplomacy, a man who negotiated important treaties that staved off and ended
wars in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, a man who earned a Nobel Peace Prize
for his diplomatic efforts. But years of experience taught him that “diplomacy
is utterly useless where there is no force behind it.”
century later, this truth remains unchanged because man’s nature remains
unchanged: Bad guys do bad things. A piece of paper, a UN resolution, an
international conference seldom can correct or prevent bad behavior. Always
dubious of what he called “the conference method” of foreign policy, President
Dwight Eisenhower noted that “We have had a lot of talks and some of them have
produced very disappointing results,” soberly adding: “The pact of Munich was a
more fell blow to humanity than the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.”
one other reason Congress should think long and hard about this treaty. If Iran
has a terrible record when it comes to following the rules of nonproliferation,
the United States has a terrible record when it comes to enforcing those rules
and knowing when they’ve been broken.
about it: The State Department badly underestimated North Korea’s nuclear program in the early 1990s, and U.S.
intelligence agencies badly underestimated North Korea’s missile capability in the late 1990s. The entire government was caught flatfooted when
India and Pakistan crashed into the nuclear club in 1998. U.S. intelligence
agencies were wrong about Iraq’s highly advanced nuclear-weapons program in
1990-91 and wrong again about Iraq’s largely-atrophied WMD program in 1998 and
2003—compensating for underestimating before Operation Desert Storm by
overestimating before Operation Desert Fox and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
we don’t have to dig too deep into history for evidence of the U.S.
government’s lackluster record on monitoring and/or disarming rogue WMD
September 2013, after Assad reopened the Pandora’s Box of chemical warfare, the
president turned to Vladimir Putin for help. The resulting deal to disarm
Syria, the president boasted, “represents an important concrete step toward the
goal of moving Syria’s chemical weapons under international control so that
they may ultimately be destroyed…There are consequences should the Assad regime
not comply with the framework agreed today. And, if diplomacy fails, the United
States remains prepared to act.” Never
one to miss a curtain call, the president added during his 2014 State of the
Union: “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s
chemical weapons are being eliminated.”
us had serious doubts about the Putin-brokered deal
at the time. The intervening two years have confirmed those doubts. We now know that
Assad has violated the letter and spirit of that disarmament deal.
those who care to look—for those who care—the proof of the Syrian disarmament
deal’s utter failure is everywhere. The Washington Post, June 20, 2015:
“Barbarism with chlorine gas goes unchecked in Syria.” Voice of America, June
17, 2015: “Syrian doctors present evidence of new chlorine gas attacks to U.S.
Congress.” The Economist, May 13, 2015: “The gassing continues.” Reuters, May
8, 2015: “Weapons inspectors find
undeclared sarin and VX traces in Syria.”
when we hear President Obama promise that his latest disarmament deal will “cut
off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a…nuclear weapons program,” allows
us “to closely monitor Iran’s program and detect any covert nuclear weapons
program,” and “prevents the most serious threat—Iran obtaining a nuclear
weapon,” the record of his administration, the record of previous
administrations and the record of the outlaw regime in Iran give us every
reason to brace for the worst.
Capstones is the publication of the Sagamore Institute Center for America's Purpose, where Dowd researches and writes on America's role in the world.