Iran: Did Obama turn a garden snake into a boa constrictor?

Pastor Saeed Abedini with Rep. Robert Pittenger (Courtesty of the author)

Pastor Saeed Abedini with Rep. Robert Pittenger (Courtesty of the author)

On Tuesday, I had the incredible privilege of meeting Pastor Saeed Abedini at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany following his release from a brutal Iranian prison.  Over the past three years, I have led numerous bipartisan efforts with Congressman Joe Kennedy to secure Pastor Abedini’s freedom, including encouraging President Obama and Secretary Kerry to take action and requesting assistance from Pope Francis, while working with Sir David Amess MP to secure support from members of the British Parliament. 

We are extremely grateful for the release of Saeed Abedini, Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari.  Freedom for these four Americans is an answer to millions of our prayers and I can only imagine the incredible joy they and their families are experiencing at this time. 

Having ensured the safety of these Americans, we should analyze the prisoner swap within the broader context of our foreign policy decision-making regarding Iran.

Secretary Kerry has insisted there is no connection between the Iran nuclear deal and the release of American hostages.  However, there are no coincidences in politics, especially related to the simultaneous transfer of $100 billion to Iran, the lifting of terrorism finance-related sanctions, and the apparent application of new ballistic missile test-related sanctions.

The prisoners’ release came on the implementation day of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which will likely be one of the most misguided foreign policy disasters since the 1938 Munich Agreement.

Despite great hope and promise conveyed by President Obama, implementation of the Iran nuclear deal creates a strategic alliance with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.

As a pre-condition to negotiations, Iran received $700 million per month of repatriated oil profits, totaling $12 billion. Surely, the release of American prisoners would have been a minor request in exchange for this financial windfall.  At that time, Iran’s economy was dire, largely due to the long-term economic sanctions imposed by the United States as a response to Iran’s state support for terrorist groups.

The outcome of this agreement will ultimately add hundreds of billions of dollars to Iran’s coffers through financial transfers and economic trade, which will only further enable their state-sponsored support of terror.

Often, I’ve wished America could trade negotiators with Iran, as they have successfully walked away with almost everything they demanded.  Meanwhile, the Obama administration has made concession after concession, doing everything it can to avoid upsetting an increasingly emboldened Iran.  

On multiple occasions in October and November of last year, it was reported that Iran conducted illegal tests of its new medium range ballistic missiles. These tests directly challenge American access to the Straits of Hormuz and are clear violations of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1929 and 2231.  Nonetheless, President Obama wavered many times on imposing sanctions on Iran in response to these tests.  His proclivity to vacillate is apparent as we recall the disappearing “red line” in Syria, leaving our allies to wonder where America stands.

In another provocation, Iran last week captured two U.S. Navy vessels and detained 10 American sailors, even broadcasting propaganda video of the sailors, with hands on their heads, held at gunpoint.

These actions come at a time of unprecedented diplomatic momentum in the Middle East against the Iranian government. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Sudan have reduced or ceased diplomatic ties with Iran over an international incident stemming from concerns over Iran’s continued support of terrorism in the Middle East.

As well, these diplomatic actions come only months after Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of over 30 Islamic countries to combat global terrorism. Instead of working with these Gulf partners, along with Israel and Egypt, to garner regional leverage against Iran, the Obama Administration has strategically pinned itself in a position of propping up the Iranians in an effort to defend the competence of the Iran deal.

The Obama administration’s deferential negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal and exchange release of prisoners reveal a concerning inability to design and execute an effective strategy in the Middle East.

At a critical moment for U.S. foreign policy, our decision-making needs to incorporate a historical perspective of the regional alliances with our long-term goals and not be based solely on justifying the merits of a misguided nuclear deal opposed by a majority of Congress and Americans.  History will record whether the Obama administration has turned a garden snake into a boa constrictor.

Republican Robert Pittenger represents North Carolina's 9th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves as chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Vice Chairman of the Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, and is a member of the House Financial Services Committee.