What, if anything, would cause President Barack Obama to step away from the negotiating table with Iran?
This is the question I find myself pondering in light of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy Patrol’s unchecked act of aggression on Tuesday against America’s interests in the Straits of Hormuz – an act that in a sane world would in and of itself put an end to the president's disastrous nuclear deal with Iran.
As of this writing, reports indicate that the Iranian Navy Patrol fired shots at and ultimately seized a commercial cargo ship, the M/V Maersk Tigris, which flies under the Marshall Islands flag. Some believe Iran was even targeting a U.S. vessel.
An Iranian warship takes part in a naval show in 2006. (Photo: AP)
In a helpful dispatch, commentator Omri Ceren notes the significant implications of such an action given that the U.S. is: (i) Treaty-bound to secure and defend the Marshall Islands, and (ii) Committed to maintaining the free flow of commerce in the strategically vital waterways of the Middle East -- as affirmed just one week ago on April 21 by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf and Pentagon Spokesman Col. Steve Warren.
The U.S. fulfilling its obligations to its protectorate, and acting to ensure vital shipping lanes remain open are not trivial matters.
Further, this act can be seen as a brazen test of the sincerity of U.S. resolve, as it was timed to coincide with the opening of the Senate’s debate on the Corker-Menendez Iran bill.
Yet there is a broader and perhaps more important context in which to consider what Ceren calls an act of "functionally unspinnable Iranian aggression."
Even if we ignore the history of Iranian aggression against the U.S. and its allies since the deposal of the Shah in 1979, the firing upon and seizing of the Tigris marks the latest in a long series of such provocations that Iran has undertaken in just the last few months. Consider:
- On February 25 the Iranian Revolutionary Guard blew up a replica U.S. aircraft carrier during defense drills
- On March 24 it was reported that the Iranian regime had increased its naval threats against the U.S., including "[T]hreats to take over and sink American aircraft carriers and other warships; to close the Strait of Hormuz and Bab El-Mandeb; to carry out large-scale missile attacks inside and outside the Persian Gulf; and to mine the Persian Gulf"
- On March 31 Basij militia chief Mohammad Reza Naqdi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stated that "erasing Israel off the map" is "nonnegotiable"
- On April 1 it was reported that an Iranian military observation aircraft had "buzzed" an armed U.S. navy helicopter over the Persian Gulf during March 2015
- On April 12 it was reported that Iran had been working to deliver surface-to-air missiles to the Houthis in Yemen
- On April 13 it was reported that Iran had increased arm shipments to Hezbollah and Hamas
- On April 14 Russia lifted its ban on the sale of missiles to Iran, no doubt with the firm support of the Iranians
- On April 17 it was reported that Iran was sending an armada of seven to nine ships – some with weapons – toward Yemen
- On April 18 Iran celebrated Army Day with calls of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel"
- On April 19 the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s deputy leader Gen. Hossein Salami declared that there would be no inspections of military sites under any nuclear deal, threatening "We will respond with hot lead [bullets] to those who speak of it…;" and
- On April 24 the Iranian Navy Patrol intercepted the Maersk Kensington, a U.S.-flagged vessel
This rhetoric and action comports with Iran’s historic hostility toward the U.S. since the fall of the Shah. Lest we forget, this list of atrocities includes, but is certainly not limited to:
- The 1983 bombing of the U.S. army barracks in Beirut
- Aiding and abetting Al Qaeda with respect to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on our nation
- Funding, training and arming terrorists responsible for slaying American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
Would Iran’s most recent actions in the Strait of Hormuz coupled with the litany of other recent and historical bellicose acts lead one to question whether it is in the United States’ interest to continue negotiating with the mullahs?
Put more directly: In what respect can the U.S. consider Iran to be a reliable, honorable negotiating partner?
Iranian women hold an anti-US sign, bearing a cartoon of US President Barack Obama, outside the former US embassy in Tehran on November 2, 2012, during a rally to mark the 33rd anniversary of seizure of the US embassy which saw Islamist students hold 52 US diplomats hostage for 444 days. This year's rally came just days before US presidential election in which Republican challenger Mitt Romney has made Iran's controversial nuclear programme a top foreign policy issue. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Concerning the content of the nuclear deal being negotiated, it should be noted that the Iranians have stated the agreement accomplishes the very opposite of what the American public been led to believe. With respect to sanctions, Iran says they will be fully lifted upon the execution of the accord. As MEMRI notes, in an April 9 address, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini gave a speech in which he called America a "cheater and a liar" and
publicly set out the negotiating framework for the Iranian negotiating team, the main points of which are: an immediate lifting of all sanctions the moment an agreement is reached; no intrusive oversight of Iran's nuclear and military facilities; the continuation of Iran's nuclear research and development program; and no inclusion of any topics not related to the nuclear program, such as missile capability or anything impacting Iran's support for its proxies in the region.
It is no wonder then that the nuclear deal has been lambasted on a bipartisan basis, including at the highest levels of the national security establishment. Even former Secretary of State James Baker is highly critical of the Iran deal – and his animus toward Israel, perhaps the primary casualty of the deal, may be second only to that of President Obama.
As to whether Khameini’s portrayal of the deal is accurate, former CIA analyst and Iran expert Fred Fleitz asserts that under the terms of the agreement, Iran will (i) be able to continue enriching uranium, (ii) not have to disassemble or destroy any enrichment equipment or facilities, (iii) not be required to "permit snap inspections and unfettered access to all Iranian nuclear facilities, including military bases where Iran is believed to have conducted nuclear-weapons work," (iv) be able to continue to operate its Arak heavy-water reactor, a plutonium source, in contravention of IAEA resolutions and (v) be subjected to an eased sanctions regime that will be incredibly difficult to re-impose.
If this were not enough, so intent is the Obama Administration on reaching a deal that it has been reported that for signing this agreement, Iran may even receive sweeteners including a $50 billion "signing bonus."
The contorted logic used by the president in defense of his progressive stance towards Iran is worthy of Neville Chamberlain. During an interview with New York Times soulmate Thomas Friedman, Obama opined:
Even for somebody who believes, as I suspect Prime Minister Netanyahu believes, that there is no difference between Rouhani and the supreme leader and they’re all adamantly anti-West and anti-Israel and perennial liars and cheaters — even if you believed all that, this still would be the right thing to do. It would still be the best option for us to protect ourselves. In fact, you could argue that if they are implacably opposed to us, all the more reason for us to want to have a deal in which we know what they’re doing and that, for a long period of time, we can prevent them from having a nuclear weapon.
Sen. Tom Cotton provides a necessary corrective in a recent interview:
I am skeptical that there are many moderates within the [Iranian] leadership … I think it's kind of like the search for the vaunted moderates in the Kremlin throughout most of the Cold War, with the exception that we could always count on the Soviet leadership to be concerned about national survival in a way that I don't think we can count on a nuclear-armed Iranian leadership to be solely concerned about national survival.
As for Lord Chamberlain, Sen. Cotton – he of that irksome letter to Iran -- takes a more charitable view, noting:
It's unfair to Neville Chamberlain to compare him to Barack Obama, because Neville Chamberlain's general staff was telling him he couldn't confront Hitler and even fight to a draw—certainly not defeat the German military—until probably 1941 or 1942. He was operating from a position of weakness. With Iran, we negotiated privately in 2012-2013 from a position of strength … not just inherent military strength of the United States compared to Iran, but also from our strategic position.
To those who recognize reality, this deal – coupled with our weak response to the ongoing provocations of the Iranian Government -- not only threatens our national security and that of our allies, but reflects an utter dereliction of duty to uphold the Constitution, and protect our people against foreign enemies.
In a word, it is treasonous.
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