After declaring that “Iran is on notice” for a recent ballistic-missile test and for missile attacks against a Saudi ship by Houthi rebels, and then announcing new U.S. sanctions against Iran on Friday, the Trump administration met with predicable criticism from Democrats and the foreign-policy establishment, who objected that the president was provoking Iran and risking war by threatening the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA).
In fact, it was President Obama’s Iran policy that made the Middle East much less stable, as his appeasement of Iran and “leading from behind” approach emboldened Tehran and did little to stop it from pursuing nuclear weapons and building ballistic missiles to carry them. The Obama administration did absolutely nothing in response to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and its backing of the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Even worse, Obama officials during the nuclear talks gave Iran a green light to expand its role in Iraq and Syria. It’s no accident that Iran sent ground troops into Syria shortly after the JCPOA was announced.
The Obama administration claimed that the JCPOA would lead to an improvement in Iranian behavior and in U.S.–Iran relations. This did not happen. Iran has conducted at least a dozen ballistic-missile tests over the past two years. Some of these missiles had the words “Israel must be wiped off the map” written on the sides. Iran captured ten U.S. sailors and held them at gunpoint on the day of President Obama’s last State of the Union address. There has been a sharp increase in Iran’s harassing and threatening ships in the Persian Gulf, including U.S. Navy vessels. Houthi rebels, probably with Iranian assistance, fired anti-ship missiles at American and United Arab Emirates ships in the Red Sea last fall. Iran also has taken more American citizens and green-card holders prisoner since the JCPOA was announced and after five U.S. prisoners were released in January 2016.
Trump’s initial moves on Iran mark the beginning of an effort to reverse Obama’s disastrous Iran policy. The administration, actually addressing the threats Iran poses to global security, is holding Iran accountable for its actions and reasserting American power.
It’s no secret that no one believed President Obama when he said “all options are on the table,” drew red lines, or issued ultimatums after belligerent acts by Iran, North Korea, ISIS, the Syrian army, and Russia. The world knew that the use of American military power was never on the table for Obama and that his words were just empty rhetoric. They knew that Obama would never back up his red lines and ultimatums. While the Obama administration sometimes responded to rogue state actions with sanctions, they were usually weak and in every case ignored.
The Trump administration’s recent warning to Iran indicates that all options really are on the table when it comes to America’s responding to actions by rogue states and actors that endanger our security and the security of our friends and allies. The sanctions imposed today against 13 individuals and twelve companies involved in Iran’s missile program are long overdue and make clear that America will not look the other way while Tehran develops nuclear-weapons delivery systems.
Iranian leaders do not know whether or when President Trump will order military action against their nation. This uncertainty, coupled with tough rhetoric against Iran by Trump and most of his national-security team, should give Iran’s ruling mullahs pause before approving future provocations.
Although President Trump does not want war with Iran, he and his advisers are probably weighing appropriate and limited military options. At a minimum, the Trump administration needs to consider military action if Iran continues to threaten the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
The Trump administration should also be weighing a broad set of international sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear program and Iranian entities that sponsor terrorism. These sanctions should be imposed outside of the United Nations so that China and Russia cannot veto or water them down. The Trump administration should support several efforts by Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran, including the Iran Non-Nuclear Sanctions Act sponsored by Senators Todd Young (R., Ind.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.). This bill would impose severe financial and economic sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile violations, human-rights abuses, and support for terrorism.
Time to rip up the iran deal Obama the Fink agreed on