Obamas Dollar Deal
By Clifford D. May
The Washington Times
April 5, 2016
President Obama's critics charge
that he's never developed a strategy to defeat terrorism, the weapon of choice
for those waging what they call a global jihad. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg,
the journalist whose ear Mr. Obama most likes to bend, says that's wrong
that the president does have a strategy. "He is, after all, killing
jihadists at a frenetic pace."
First, it's really not clear that
Mr. Obama is engaged in anything more than a less-than-successful holding action
against the Islamic State, al Qaeda, the Taliban and similar adversaries.
Second, killing at whatever pace is a tactic, not a strategy. Third and
perhaps most important: There are Sunni jihadists and Shia jihadists and both
utilize terrorism. What is Mr. Obama doing about the Shia jihadists? He's
rewarding and enriching them.
To be fair, that may be a
strategy, or at least part of one. It's based on a set of assumptions, all of
which I'd call dubious, e.g., that the Islamic Republic of Iran has
"legitimate grievances" that deserve to be addressed; that Iran's
theocrats, like us, seek compromise; that they, like us, favor "conflict
resolution" through diplomacy and regard violence as a last resort.
Pursuant to this thinking, Mr.
Obama concluded without congressional consent what he considers a good
deal with Tehran. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) obligates
Iran's rulers to delay a nuclear weapons program they do not acknowledge exists.
In exchange, the United States and its European allies have agreed to release
more than $100 billion in frozen assets and lift those sanctions imposed in
response to Iran's illicit nuclear activities.
Other sanctions such as those
imposed because Iran, according to the U.S. government, continues to sponsor
terrorism, develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and
conduct illicit financial activities were meant to stay in place.
Mr. Obama and his deputies were
adamant about this when they were attempting to persuade Congress to go along
with the JCPOA. There was one specific and enormous concession that Secretary of
the Treasury Jacob Lew specifically assured Congress would not be granted:
access to dollar transactions and the American financial system. "Iranian
banks will not be able to clear U.S. dollars through New York, hold
correspondent account relationships with U.S. financial institutions, or enter
into financing arrangements with U.S. banks," he told the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee. "Iran, in other words, will continue to be denied
access to the world's largest financial and commercial market."
In recent days, however, Mark
Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer, colleagues at the Foundation for Defense of
Democracies, have assembled evidence leading to the conclusion that Mr. Obama
has indeed been planning to grant this concession.
He has asked Iran's rulers for
nothing in return. On the contrary, since the conclusion of the JCPOA, they have
been "testing" ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. Security
Council resolutions, aiding and abetting the slaughter in Syria, supporting
Houthi rebels in Yemen, and threatening Israelis with genocide. They have seized
and humiliated American sailors. Recently, for the first time ever, the U.S.
Justice Department charged state-sponsored individuals seven Iranians
with hacking to disrupt critical American infrastructure.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
remains as anti-American and bellicose as ever. "Those who say the future
is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors," he
said last week. So why give him a prize?
It could be because Mr. Obama sees
the Iran deal as an important part of his legacy. It could be because he fears
that Ayatollah Khamenei will walk away from the deal as soon as the stream of
benefits stops flowing. It could be because Mr. Obama wants to bolster Iranian
President Hassan Rouhani, whom he regards incorrectly, I'd argue as a
moderate. It could be all of the above.
Whatever the explanation, many
members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, are furious over having been
deceived. "I do not support granting Iran any new relief without a
corresponding concession," Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House,
said in a statement.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas
Republican who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,
said either Congress has been "intentionally misled" or "the
Obama administration and the Iranians are changing the terms of the nuclear deal
months after it was finalized. Either scenario is unacceptable."
Responding to this pushback, Mr.
Obama said it is "not necessary that we take the approach of [Iranians]
going through dollar-denominated transactions. It is possible for them to work
through European financial institutions as well." Translated into English,
this appears to endorse some kind of workaround involving offshore dollar
clearing, a less direct way of giving Iran's rulers what they want, thereby
allowing, as Mr. Obama put it, "deal flows to begin."
If you're puzzled as to why he'd
be eager to facilitate Iran's "deal flows," consider this possibility:
He believes in the power of commerce to transform the regime, to convert its
theocrats into tycoons more eager to make money than war, more focused on
building nest eggs than spreading the Islamic Revolution.
In other words, that could be Mr.
Obama's strategy to combat Shia jihadism-terrorism. Its most obvious flaw:
Iran's theocrats are already filthy rich and they've never been overly
concerned about the deprivations suffered by the average Iranian. "This
revolution was not about the price of watermelons," Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini, Iran's first "supreme leader," famously stated. Not a shred
of evidence suggests that his heirs see things differently.