The new U.S. Iran strategy is comprehensive, tough, and prudent.
This is the latest Trump administration initiative to redo (or undo in many cases) various international deals brokered by previous administrations that resulted in a strategic loss for the United States. And if there’s one deal in particular that resulted in an obvious, and gratuitous, loss for the United States, it’s the Obama administration’s Iran deal.
In his address to decertify the Obama brokered Iran deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or “JCPOA”), President Trump underscored that the fundamental problem with the deal is that it focused on only one fundamental problem with Iran–the regime’s nuclear program–to the exclusion of all the other serious problems with Tehran. For example, Iran remains a very active and prominent state sponsor of terrorism, the IRGC carries out many of the regime’s acts of terror, and–so obviously problematic–the Iranian missile program. Long-range missiles are the delivery systems for nuclear payloads. And missile technology is much harder to master than building a nuclear weapon. We can see this with North Korea. It has had a nuclear weapon for some time, but delivery systems are harder to acquire.
The new Trump plan to deal with Iran does not require immediate U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal. Instead, the United States will work with allies to ensure that the Iranians are truly complying with the deal. There will be zero tolerance for the cheating that is discovered. It will remain a challenge to verify if Iran is, in fact, cheating since the Iranians do not believe international inspectors have access to its military sites, where previous illicit activity has occurred. Nevertheless, the aspects of the deal that can be verified, will receive serious scrutiny. It’s worth remembering that even President Obama admitted that this deal would only postpone the Iranians’ break-out time from a few months to a year, if Teheran decided to outright cheat and break-out or simply wait out the sunset provisions and then break-out. Of course, by then, if the United States doesn’t stop Iran’s missile program, the regime could have a working intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a nuclear payload.
This is why it’s critical to address all of the dangers the regime, rather than merely one small aspect of its weapons program; that is, if the United States is to learn from history. The regime is the problem, and merely restricting one aspect of its nuclear weapons program, while granting it access to billions of dollars not only has the effect of rewarding the regime for decades of malign behavior, it actually ends up funding the activity that directly harms the United States and our allies. Recall, Iran is responsible for the death of more 500 American warfighters, and this was known when President Obama was working to legitimize Iran by way of the Iran deal.
Also, importantly, President Trump recognized the Iranian people in his address. He emphasized that the United States has a problem with the Iran’s ruling regime, not with her people. Iranians are often the worst victims of the regime’s brutality and aggression. And unless the regime changes course or is weakened so much that the Iranian people–who desire pluralism and independence from the mullahs–can alter or overthrow the regime, isolated actions like the Iran deal are merely tinkering on the margins. The problem with the Iran deal is that it won’t ultimately deal with the problem. The president has made the first move to rectify this error.
It’s now up to Congress, in close coordination with the Administration, to pass legislation that will appropriately sanction the regime for its terrorism and missile program. If these actions prompt Iran to walk away from the deal, then so be it. In the words of Obama officials: no deal is better than a bad deal.
Bottom line: This is a very good strategy. What the United States needs is a clear-eyed, realistic approach to Iran, that will help preserve peace in the near and long term. Implementation will require enormous diplomatic heavy-lifting. But if the United States pulls it off, it portends a victory for long term stability that is difficult to overstate.
Rebeccah L. Heinrichs is a fellow at Hudson Institute where she provides research and commentary on a variety of international security issues and specializes in deterrence and counter-proliferation. She is also the vice-chairman of the John Hay Initiative’s Counter-proliferation Working Group and the original manager of the House of Representatives Bi-partisan Missile Defense Caucus.