America Should Uphold the Nuclear Deal with Iran: Part II

America Should Uphold the Nuclear Deal with Iran: Part II

As the October 15 deadline approaches for President Donald Trump to inform Congress if he will recertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the president is faced with a great opportunity to chart his own course in Republican foreign policy—one that puts Americans’ interests above the interests of their Middle Eastern allies, who consider Iran their greatest geopolitical foe.

Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) right after the JCPOA, requiring the president to inform Congress every three months if Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. If the president finds Iran is not complying, the United States doesn’t automatically exit the deal; rather, Congress then has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on the country.

Trump has so far recertified the deal twice, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which inspects Iran for compliance, has confirmed eight times that Iran is complying with the deal. Furthermore, most in Trump’s administration have concurred with the IAEA, and see no reason for the U.S. to withdraw.

For U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Iran’s alleged compliance is only a matter of IAEA not seeing everything. But as Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, recently noted,  

The IAEA to our knowledge has not requested access to any site and been denied. Furthermore, the agency cannot and should not seek access to a site simply to test the Iranians’ cooperation. They must have a legitimate reason.

Furthermore, Haley and others in the foreign policy establishment, who are urging Trump to decertify the deal would not be satisfied if Iran was found in compliance after opening all its military bases.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) said as recently as October 3 that Trump should decertify the deal, even if Iran is complying. It’s about regime change in Tehran. For many “conservatives,” it’s not about compliance, or even the “terrible deal” itself—it’s about overthrowing the regime in Tehran.

In a speech at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2007, General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the 1999 War on Yugoslavia, claimed that the U.S. experienced a foreign policy coup after the 9/11 attacks. “Some hard-nosed people took over the direction of American policy, and they never bothered to inform the rest of us,” he said. He went on to recall that a general in the Pentagon told him in 2001 of a policy memo, that laid out a plan to overthrow the governments of seven countries in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran), within five years.  

Cotton, in fact, specifically stated in June, “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran.” And even Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a presidential debate in 2015 that the U.S. should topple the Iranian regime, claiming the country “has declared war on us.”

Last year as a Congressman, Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo publicly called for congressional action to “change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.” In his new position, he has approved new authorities for U.S. intelligence officers to begin placing funds in secret accounts belonging to Iranian officers to create the impression that those officers are working for foreign powers.

But it’s not only some in Congress and the intelligence community seeking to destabilize Iran. Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Politico reported that the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a D.C.-based think tank, circulated a seven-page memo throughout the National Security Council and the White House, urging the new administration to enact regime change in Iran.

“Iran is susceptible to a strategy of coerced democratization because it lacks popular support and relies on fear to sustain its power,” the memo read. It reminded Trump that no one has greater power to foment dissent abroad than the American president, stating that the goal in Iran should be “a tolerant government that adheres to global norms.” It suggested Trump “use trade unions, student organizations and dissident clerics to highlight the economic, political [and] moral shortcomings of the Iranian regime.”

Trump officials were careful to tell Politico that the administration relies more on internal, rather than external proposals, and mentioned they had also consulted the Brookings Institution for foreign policy advice. But Brookings has also called for regime change in Iran. In 2009, it issued a report entitled, “Which Path to Persia,” which prescribed a deceitful war of aggression. It argued the U.S. should create a situation to make Iran look as if it’s blowing a chance for a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue. This would then allow the U.S., or Israel, to attack the country, “in sorrow, not anger.” The tactic, the report stated, would convince at least some in the international community that “the Iranians brought it on themselves.”

Newsweek reported that Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under former President Richard Nixon, also visited the White House shortly after Trump’s inauguration to advise the president on the Islamic State (ISIS). Kissinger cautioned that defeating ISIS could lead to a “radical Iranian empire” across the Middle East.

Kissinger’s viewpoint mirrors that of an influential Israeli think tank, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), which the University of Pennsylvania has ranked one of the three top think tanks in the Middle East and Africa. BESA released a paper on August 2, by Efraim Inbar, political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, entitled, “The Destruction of Islamic State is a Strategic Mistake.” Inbar argues, “IS can be a useful tool in undermining Tehran’s ambitious plan for domination of the Middle East.” ISIS, he states, should be weakened but not defeated, adding,

The West yearns for stability, and holds out a naive hope that the military defeat of IS will be instrumental in reaching that goal. But stability is not a value in and of itself. It is desirable only if it serves our interests.

When Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon was the White House chief strategist, he asked former U.S. ambassador to the UN and senior fellow at AEI John Bolton to draw up a game plan for Trump to withdraw from the JCPOA. Bolton obliged, and in it, urges the president to “expedite delivery of bunker-buster bombs; announce U.S. support for Kurdish national aspirations, including Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Syria; provide assistance to Balochis, Khuzestan Arabs, Kurds, and others—also to internal resistance among labor unions, students, and women’s groups.”

Cotton, proposing along the same lines as Bolton, has noted that Iran has numerous minority ethnic groups, including Arabs, Turkmen and Balochs who “aren’t enthusiastic about living in a Persian Shiite despotism.” He too advocates a combination of economic, diplomatic and covert actions to pressure Tehran’s government and “support internal domestic dissent.”

To wage war on the Iranian regime is to wage war on the Iranian people.

But, what those on the warrior bandwagon fail to understand is that any attempt to wage war on the Iranian regime, regardless of how dissatisfied most Iranians are with their backward government, would necessarily wage war on the Iranian people.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani won all the major Sunni-populated provinces by overwhelming margins in this year’s election. This says something about Iranian religious minorities’ view of Rouhani, considering voter turnout in those provinces exceeded the national average. Furthermore, Iran is not an artificially created country, like Iraq and most African countries that were colonies of the West. Iranians of all religious affiliations and ethnicities can trace their history in Persia back three thousand years.

But a more pressing problem for the would-be saviors of the oppressed Iranian people is the fact that there is no serious opposition to empower.

Iran’s only operational dissident group is the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), with roughly 5,000 to 13,500 members. The fact that most of them are dispersed outside of Iran means that it could not possibly destabilize Iran’s government. Furthermore, MEK sided with Saddam Hussein in the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran that cost hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives; meaning MEK is not even popular with the Iranian people. Some may argue the U.S. could heavily arm the group the way it has done with dozens of dissident groups throughout history. But even the State Department has already designated MEK as a terrorist organization.

In addition, claims that the Iranian regime’s policies—particularly concerning its nuclear program and aid to fellow Shiites in the region—lack popular support is void of evidence. A recent poll shows that 81 percent of Iranians believe it is “very important for Iran to develop its nuclear program” and 68 percent thought that Iran should “seek to increase the role it plays in the region.”

Another argument for regime change is that all Iranian politicians must be hard-liners, because they have to support the revolutionary philosophy of the Islamic Republic to get elected.

But this kind of thinking automatically assumes all Iranian politicians take their constitution more seriously than American politicians take theirs.

But the U.S. has already been down this path before.

In 1953, the U.S. overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh because he started drifting a little too far to the left for Cold War sensibilities. In fact, a quarter century later, in 1979, Iranian revolutionaries cited that grievance more than any other as the reason for their 444-day occupation of the U.S. embassy.

Regime change sounds like a noble goal on paper and in theory, but it is because of regime change that a nuclear Iran is an issue in the first place. If Trump cannot resist the pressure by the idealists who believe regime change can create a better world, or who simply want to carry water for Israel and the Sunni crescent, then it will depend on whether there are enough sensible Republicans Congress to stonewall any attempt to break the deal by reimposing sanctions.

Follow this author on Twitter: @JD_Grandstaff

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