Foreign Policy Fiasco that Wasn’t
New York Tmes
March 29, 2019
been nearly a year since Donald Trump made the decision to
withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, to loud cries that it would bring
nothing but woe to the United States and our interests in the Middle East.
far, the result has been closer to the opposite.
much was further made clear thanks to excellent reporting this week by The
Times’s Ben Hubbard. “Iran’s financial crisis, exacerbated by American
writes from Lebanon, “appears to be undermining its support for
militant groups and political allies who bolster Iranian influence in Iraq,
Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.”
heavens to Betsy. When the Obama administration negotiated the nuclear deal, the
president acknowledged that sanctions relief for Tehran would inevitably mean
more money for groups like Hezbollah. But he also insisted it wouldn’t make
much of a difference in terms of Iran’s capacity to make mischief in the
reporting suggests otherwise. Iran can no longer finance civilian projects or
credit lines in Syria. Hezbollah fighters and Palestinian militants aren’t
being paid, and their families are losing subsidized housing. Even Hezbollah
leader Hassan Nasrallah has complained publicly about the effects of U.S.
are those the only benefits of withdrawal. The U.S. is no longer looking the
other way at Hezbollah’s criminal enterprises, including drug smuggling and
money laundering, the way it did during
the Obama administration in order to engage Iran diplomatically.
Iran’s protest movement, quashed in 2009, has shown signs of renewed life, not
least because of public
fury that the regime spends money on foreign adventures while economic
conditions worsen at home.
importantly, Iran has not used the U.S. withdrawal from the deal to restart its
nuclear programs, despite
its threats to do so. Part of this has to do with Tehran’s belief that it
can wait Trump out, especially since Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala
Harris have promised to re-enter the deal if elected.
it also suggests an edge of fear in Tehran’s calculations. The U.S. can still
impose a great deal more pain on the Islamic Republic if it chooses to do so.
so? Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told me earlier
this week that the sanctions needle now stands at around a 6. With
a nod to Spin̈al Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, he says, “We need to get
still exports about a million barrels of oil a day; the administration could
bring it to zero by refusing to hand out sanctions waivers. The State Department
could also designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign
terrorist organization, on a par with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State. Such a
designation, Dubowitz says, would “make the entire Iranian economy
radioactive” to foreign investment, since the I.R.G.C. is heavily involved in
scores of Iranian businesses.
here Dubowitz is merely warming to his theme. Freeze Iran’s foreign exchange
reserves? Doable. Expose the immense wealth of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and
sanction the companies he and other leading regime figures control? Ditto.
Unleash lawsuits against companies still doing business with Iran to recover
billions of dollars in outstanding terrorism judgments against the country?
point isn’t to punish Iran for punishment’s sake. It’s to create leverage
for a better nuclear deal. Last May, Mike Pompeo set a
dozen parameters for an agreement, including “unqualified access” to
U.N. nuclear inspectors, permanent cessation of uranium enrichment and plutonium
reprocessing, the end of Iran’s ballistic-missile program, withdrawal of its
forces from Syria, and the release of U.S. nationals held in its prisons.
demands have been alternatively dismissed as silly or reckless by most of
Washington’s foreign policy establishment. But it says something about the
debasement of diplomatic expectations — both of what we have a right to demand
and what we think we can achieve — that any of it should be controversial.
states that sponsor terrorism and subscribe to millenarian ideologies should
never have access to any part of the nuclear fuel cycle, ever. Any U.S.
administration that abdicates the responsibility to do everything it can to
prevent such access effectively renounces America’s status as a superpower as
G.D.P. is roughly equivalent to that of the greater Boston area, with 17 times
the population. The regime may be a force to be reckoned with in the Middle
East. But it is hardly a giant on the world stage, immune to any form of
Trump administration has succeeded in dramatically raising the costs to Iran for
its sinister behavior, at no cost to the United States or our allies. That’s
the definition of a foreign-policy achievement. It’s time to move the needle
up again. The longer Hezbollah fighters go unpaid, or the Assad regime unaided,
the better off the people of the Middle East will be.