Back Iranian Expansionism
July 4, 2017
message of President Trump’s is popular at home with his political base and
embraced abroad by key Middle Eastern allies: The Islamic Republic of Iran is
imperialist, repressive, and—unless we adopt a new strategy—on its way
toward possessing nuclear weapons. To keep the threat at bay, Mr. Trump should
take a page from the playbook Ronald Reagan used against the Soviet Union.
the early 1980s, President Reagan shifted away from his predecessors’
containment strategy toward a new plan of rolling back Soviet expansionism. The
cornerstone of his strategy was the recognition that the Soviet Union was an
aggressive and revolutionary yet internally fragile regime that had to be
policy was outlined in 1983 in National Security Decision Directive 75, a
comprehensive strategy that called for the use of all instruments of American
overt and covert power. The plan included a massive defense buildup, economic
warfare, support for anti-Soviet proxy forces and dissidents, and an all-out
offensive against the regime’s ideological legitimacy.
Trump should call for a new version of NSDD-75 and go on offense against the
Iranian regime. The administration would be wise to address every aspect of the
Iranian menace, not merely the nuclear program. President Obama’s myopic focus
on disarmament paralyzed American policy.
Mr. Obama’s deeply flawed nuclear accord, Tehran does not need to cheat to
reach threshold nuclear-weapons capabilities. Merely by waiting for key
constraints to sunset, the regime can emerge over the next decade with an
industrial-size enrichment program, a near-zero breakout time, an easier
clandestine path to a nuclear warhead, long-range ballistic missiles, access to
advanced conventional weaponry, greater regional dominance, and a more powerful
economy, increasingly immunized against Western sanctions. You could call this
scenario the lethal Iranian end-state.
new national security directive must systemically dismantle Iranian power
country by country in the Middle East. The Europeans, traumatized by foreign
fighters returning from Syria and massive refugee flows, may support a tougher
Iran policy if it means Washington finally gets serious about Syria. The early
signs of the return of American power are promising: 59 Tomahawk missiles
launched in response to the Assad regime’s most recent chemical attack,
military strikes at Iran-backed militias in southern Syria, the downing of a
Syrian fighter plane and Iranian-made drones, and 281 Syria-related sanctions in
should demolish the Iranian regime’s terrorist networks and influence
operations, including their presence in Europe and the United States. That means
working closely with allied Sunni governments against Iranian subversion of
their societies. The American offensive has already begun: CIA Director Mike
Pompeo is putting the agency on an aggressive footing against these global
networks with the development of a more muscular covert action program.
of Washington’s actions to push back against Tehran hinge on severely
weakening the Iranian regime’s finances. Robust measures should target the
regime’s praetorians, the Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a dominant force
in Iran’s economy. New sanctions legislation designating the IRGC for
terrorism—which the Senate recently passed with 98 votes—and the more than
40 Iran-related sanctions imposed this year are a good start. But much more is
still needed: The IRGC’s transfer to Hezbollah of industrial-size missile
production capability based on Lebanon soil could trigger the next
Israel-Hezbollah war. Massive economic sanctions on Iran to stop these transfers
may be the only way to head off this war.
but not least, the American pressure campaign should seek to undermine Iran’s
rulers by strengthening the pro-democracy forces that erupted in Iran in 2009,
nearly toppling the regime. Target the regime’s soft underbelly: its massive
corruption and human-rights abuses. Conventional wisdom assumes that Iran has a
stable government with a public united behind President Hassan Rouhani’s
vision of incremental reform. In reality, the gap between the ruled and their
Islamist rulers is expanding.
odds that a moderate government will emerge in Tehran before the nuclear
deal’s restrictions expire are poor. Washington needs to block the Islamic
Republic’s pathways to gaining nuclear-tipped missiles. While aggressively
enforcing the nuclear agreement, the administration should present revised terms
for a follow-on deal. These must address the current accord’s fundamental
flaws, including the sunset provisions that give Tehran a clear pathway to
nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them, and the inadequate access to
Iranian military sites that blocks effective verification.
administration should present Iran the choice between a new agreement and an
unrelenting American pressure campaign while signaling that it is unilaterally
prepared to cancel the existing deal if Tehran doesn’t play ball.
six years after Ronald Reagan adopted his pressure strategy, the Soviet bloc
collapsed. Washington must intensify the pressure on the mullahs as Reagan did
on the communists. Otherwise, a lethal nuclear Iran is less than a decade away.