Iran Enrichment Syndrome
By Jonathan S. Tobin
June 6, 2018
The next phase of the effort to stop the Trump
administration from preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon has already
As The New York Times reported today, the
senior leaders of the European Union have formally asked the U.S. Treasury and
State Departments to grant
exemptions to European companies and allow key sectors of their
economies, including energy and aviation, to maintain their financial
connections to the United States while also doing business with Iran.
The letter confirms that the Europeans understand that U.S.
President Donald Trump and his foreign-policy team mean what they say about
re-imposing crippling sanctions on Iran in order to force it to renegotiate the
nuclear deal the Obama administration concluded with it. What’s more, the plea
is also a recognition that this time America means what it says about getting
tough on Tehran.
That’s of particular interest today because of a report
just published by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
revealed that the Obama administration evaded key sanctions it was claiming to
enforce in order to allow Iran access to billions in hard currency.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported, this investigation
showed that Obama administration officials went beyond the terms of the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action to help the regime get billions in hard currency
and access to the U.S. financial system to which it wasn’t entitled. The
special licenses granted to two banks allowed Iran the cash it needed to fund
its ballistic-missile program, terrorist groups like Hezbollah and its own
forces operating in Syria.
The money has also apparently helped Iran afford major
improvements in its nuclear program. On the same day that the Europeans were
begging for sanctions relief and the Senate published its report, Iran
announced it had completed a new centrifuge assembly center that would
expand its capacity to enrich uranium above and beyond the amounts that it is
already allowed to do under the terms of the nuclear deal.
But the icing on the cake is that the Obama administration
specifically promised Congress that it would not do any of this.
The honesty of Trump and his administration is called into
question on a daily basis—and sometimes for good reason. But while the efforts
of the news media to hold Trump accountable for this are necessary, it’s
obvious that they failed to do the same for U.S. President Barack Obama on Iran.
The answer to this from Obama’s defenders is to ask “so
what?” As far as they are concerned, the details about the Iran deal are old
news, and if Obama and his team fibbed about the way they went about securing
his signature foreign-policy accomplishment, it was just a matter of breaking
eggs to make an omelet.
But it matters for four reasons.
The first is that the more we learn about Obama and Iran,
the more the self-righteous lectures about Trump from his media tormentors ring
hollow. We are constantly told that the longer Trump is in office, the better
Obama looks because of the latter’s willingness to abide by civilized norms
and rules of honesty that Trump has no use for.
But the prominent journalists who were so easily
manipulated that even Obama Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes called
them his “media echo chamber” didn’t just faithfully transmit false
information about the deal as their puppet masters desired. They also let Obama
get away with the sorts of lies that they would be screaming bloody murder about
if Trump were doing the same thing now.
The second point is that these revelations about previous
president’s deceptions are exactly why the Europeans are so put out by the
Trump team’s determination to roll back the nuclear deal. The Senate report
reveals that Obama administration officials encouraged Europeans to join the
post-nuclear deal Iran gold rush and assured them they would face no penalties,
despite the fact that U.S. sanctions were still in place. Obama’s lies make
the re-imposition of sanctions now seem particularly harsh to those who were
promised that they would never pay a price for their actions.
The third reason is that Obama’s lies had real-world
consequences. His weakness and desire to appease Tehran led directly to Iranian
troops being currently stationed in Syria and in a position to wage war on
Israel. Without the financial bonus Obama delivered to the ayatollahs, Iran’s
expanded illegal missile program and improvements in its nuclear infrastructure
would not have been possible.
Trump’s determination to roll back Iran’s gains is not
merely a matter of trashing Obama’s legacy, but necessary to defend the
security of the West that is threatened by a deal that allowed Iran to grow rich
and more powerful while making its ultimate acquisition of a bomb inevitable.
Despite being labeled as an isolationist administration, the United States is
seeking to defend the same Europeans, who are apparently more interested in
profiting from business with the world’s leading state sponsor of terror than
in restraining it. The Senate report underscores the need for America to start
saying “no” to the Europeans and stick to it.
Lastly, the more we know about the lies Obama told about
the nuclear deal, the more it sets a standard for how we should judge Trump’s
actions with respect both to Iran and his upcoming negotiations with North
While dismay at Trump’s shortcomings is understandable, what we have learned should teach us above all that what Americans need from their government is transparency and honesty about security threats. The Iran enrichment syndrome that Obama created must be reversed. His presidential temperament and popularity notwithstanding, the lies he told when it came to Iran not only betrayed the trust the American people placed in him, but also left the world more dangerous than he found it. Trump should be judged not only by his honesty (or lack thereof), but also on whether he can, as he hopes to do, undo the damage his predecessor created.