President Obama imagined he could end his second term with an arms-control detente with Iran the way Ronald Reagan did with the Soviet Union. It looks instead that his nuclear deal has inspired Iran toward new military aggression and greater anti-American hostility.
The U.S. and United Nations both say Iran is already violating U.N. resolutions that bar Iran from testing ballistic missiles. Iran has conducted two ballistic-missile tests since the nuclear deal was signed in July, most recently in November. The missiles seem capable of delivering nuclear weapons with relatively small design changes.
The White House initially downplayed the missile tests, but this week it did an odd flip-flop on whether to impose new sanctions in response. On Wednesday it informed Congress that it would target a handful of Iranian companies and individuals responsible for the ballistic-missile program. Then it later said it would delay announcing the sanctions, which are barely a diplomatic rebuke in any case, much less a serious response to an arms-control violation.
Under the nuclear accord, Iran will soon receive $100 billion in unfrozen assets as well as the ability to court investors who are already streaming to Tehran. Sanctioning a few names is feckless by comparison, and Iran is denouncing even this meager action as a U.S. violation of the nuclear deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded to the sanctions reports on Thursday by ordering his defense minister to accelerate Iran’s missile program. Your move, Mr. Obama.
Opponents of the nuclear accord predicted this. Mr. Obama says the deal restricts Iranian action, but it does far more to restrict the ability of the U.S. to respond to Iranian aggression. If the U.S. takes tough action in response to Iran’s missile tests or other military provocations, Iran can threaten to stop abiding by the nuclear deal. It knows the world has no appetite for restoring serious sanctions, and that Mr. Obama will never admit his deal is failing. The mullahs view the accord as a license to become more militarily aggressive.
Further proof came Wednesday when U.S. Central Command acknowledged that Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels last week fired several rockets that landed within 1,500 yards of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman. A Revolutionary Guard spokesman Thursday denied the incident but a day earlier the semiofficial Tabnak news agency quoted an unnamed Iranian official as saying the rockets were launched to warn the U.S. Navy away from “a forbidden zone” in the Persian Gulf.
The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most heavily trafficked waterways, and the USS Truman carrier group has every right to sail there. By any measure the rocket launch was a hostile act that could have resulted in American casualties.
This follows Iran’s arrest in October of Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, who according to Iranian media reports is being held in Evin Prison though no charges have been filed. The reports suggest that Mr. Namazi is suspected of spying because he is one of the World Economic Forum’s “Young Global Leaders.” That’s the dangerous outfit that sponsors the annual gabfest in Davos.
Iran has also shown its gratitude for the nuclear deal by convicting Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian on absurd charges of espionage. The Iranian-American has been held for more than 500 days.
The White House’s media allies are blaming all of this on Iranian “hard-liners” who are supposedly trying to undermine President Rouhani for having negotiated the nuclear deal. Memo to these amateur Tehranologists: The hard-liners run Iran.
Mr. Rouhani was only able to complete the nuclear deal because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard decided the terms were in their interests. They get serious sanctions lifted and an immediate financial windfall, while retaining the nuclear infrastructure they can fire up when the accord expires after a decade, if they don’t find an excuse to do so sooner.
The sages now blaming hard-liners for Iran’s nastiness are the same folks who told us that the nuclear accord would empower the “moderates” in Iran by showing America’s peaceful intentions. When will this crowd figure out that Iran’s rulers don’t want better relations with the U.S.? They want to become the dominant power in the Middle East while driving the U.S. out of the region.
Mr. Obama’s ambition to emulate Reagan’s success was never realistic because he pursued the opposite of the Reagan strategy. The Gipper stood up to Soviet aggression, rebuilt U.S. defenses, and then negotiated from strength. The Soviets bent to his terms.
From his first days in office Mr. Obama begged Iran to negotiate, making concession after concession until even the Ayatollah had to accept. It’s no surprise Iran has concluded that it can now press its military ambitions with impunity.