When the Iranian parliament chanted “death to America" while unanimously voting "to increase spending on its ballistic missile program and the foreign operations of its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard," sophisticated diplomats may have pondered the symbolic meaning of "death to America."
After all, our wisest and most sophisticated analysts have reassured us, it couldn't literally mean "death to America." The New York Times has been on a campaign to convince Americans the phrase has lost its original meaning.
The same analysts reassure us that when senior Hamas leaders are quoted saying "not a single Jew will remain" in Israel, they are really communicating symbolically.
As a historian, I am always amazed at the sophistry of well-educated establishments that hide from reality through the use of convoluted thinking and clever language.
In my experience, dictators and revolutionary movements mean exactly what they say. In this case, the Iranians would like to destroy both America and Israel.
Thankfully, President Trump understands this reality better than many so-called experts.
The president did exactly the right thing Friday when he announced that he would renew sanctions on the Iranian regime and decline to certify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (also known as the Iran Deal) negotiated by President Obama.
President Trump has previously referred to the deal as “an embarrassment to the United States,” and called it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”
Since he was a candidate, the President understood that America is today with the Iranian dictatorship where it was in 1994 with the North Korean dictatorship. We now know that during 23 years of talking, posturing, and diplomatic maneuvering, the North Koreans simply kept building their nuclear weapon and missile programs.
As the president said Friday "History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes."
The president saw that we are today faced with the same choice with Iran that we had in North Korea in 1994. He decided to show the courage to tell the truth and act on it.
This will be a big surprise to Iran – and North Korea. Having been conditioned by eight years of President Obama to assume that America will always posture and then cave, neither of these rogue nations knows how to deal with a super power that is serious.
The weaknesses of the Obama agreement with Iran are simply symptoms of the weakness and self-delusion behind the entire Obama team approach to the Iranian dictatorship and its revolutionary terrorist strategies.
Iran has proved that appeasement and negotiation fail time and again.
Starting in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini established a religious dictatorship that exported terror and saw itself at war with America ('the Great Satan") and Israel ("the Little Satan"), American policy became increasingly hostile to the regime.
During the 1979-1981 Iranian hostage crisis, which was itself a total violation of international law, the Jimmy Carter Administration attempted a rational negotiating strategy. It was completely rejected by the mullahs.
During the Reagan administration in 1983, truck bombs driven by Iranian-sponsored operatives killed 241 U.S. service personnel (220 marine and 21 other personnel) and 58 French paratroopers in Lebanon, and the United States quietly helped the Iraqis with intelligence and military equipment in their war with Iran.
From 1987 to 1988 the United States provided naval support to help Kuwaiti tankers get through the straits of Hormuz. In that process, the Iranians tried to mine the Persian Gulf, and an American warship shot down an Iranian airliner it thought was on a dangerous course.
Throughout the period of 1979 to 2008, the United States had a consistent policy of containing the Iranian dictatorship. It was clear that Iranians killed 19 Americans with a bomb at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Iran was consistently labeled the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world by every administration (including Obama’s).
President George W. Bush identified the Iranian dictatorship, along with Iraq and North Korea, as part of an "Axis of Evil." During our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan the Iranians worked hard to establish their own zones of influence.
However, When President Obama came into office, nearly 30 years of hostility was replaced by a new vision of developing a relationship with the Iranian dictatorship. This is the delusional fantasy that has allowed Iran to dominate much of the Middle East, especially after Iraq was weakened by war. It also emboldened Iran.
Even after President Trump’s historic and amazing United Nations speech when he condemned the JCPOA and said Iran is a "reckless regime – one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room," the Iranians responded by building more missiles.
Consider this report by Reuters titled "Defying Trump, Iran says will boost missile capabilities”:
“Iran will strengthen its missile capabilities and not seek any country’s permission, President Hassan Rouhani said on Friday rejecting demands from U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Rouhani spoke at a military parade where an Iranian news agency said one of the weapons on display was a new ballistic missile with range of 1,200 miles, capable of carrying several warheads. …
“In a speech broadcast on state television, Rouhani said: ‘We will increase our military power as a deterrent. We will strengthen our missile capabilities ... We will not seek permission from anyone to defend our country.’”
For those who wonder how big the Iranian missile program is, AP reported that, “Brigadier General Hossein Salami of the Revolutionary Guard boasted that ‘the rate of our missile production is so high that we are faced with the problem of space’ to keep them in.”
President Trump also realizes his administration must not consider the JCPOA in isolation.
The failure of the JCPOA is simply one component of a disastrous Obama policy which has enabled Iran to break out and begin to develop a hegemonic position across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon (with a dangerous extension to Gaza).
For instance, Iranians have been desperate to build a land corridor to connect with Lebanon since the Reagan Administration was dueling with the Iranian-sponsored terrorists there. Obama's myopic policy of focusing only on the JCPOA gave Iran the opportunity it needed to gain that corridor.
As a result, we are currently faced with preparations for war on a scale the Middle East has not seen since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Hezbollah, the Iranian front group in South Lebanon, has more than 100,000 missiles that can be fired into Israel. As though that isn't enough of a threat, the Iranians plan to build missile factories in Syria and Lebanon. In addition, they are talking about developing an Iranian port in Lebanon.
The weakness and confusion America has shown in Syria has created a Russian-Iranian-Assad-Hezbollah alliance that will push the threat to Israel to a totally new and dangerous level.
Flush with money from Obama (including an airplane full of cash flown in like a drug cartel run), Iran has funded a proxy war in Yemen against the Saudis. More Iranian money has been sent to prop up Hamas after the various Sunni funders began to cut them off.
On every front, Iran is a dangerous nation seeking to build up its capacity to wage war, project power, and intimidate its neighbors.
Meanwhile, the JCPOA is another absurdity that illustrates how weak the Obama team was and how eager its members were to get an Iranian agreement to "something."
Congress should move forward with initiatives to strengthen it.
Under the current agreement, the Iranians have reserved the right to keep their military installations secret. Thus, international inspectors can look for violations anywhere except on military facilities. This means the inspections can have no validity, because inspectors will never know what they are not allowed to see.
Finally, the United Nations agreement limiting Iranian missile development is being blatantly and publicly violated. That strikes at the very heart of the Corker-Cardin requirement that Iran must be fully implementing the related agreements. Iran's failed launch of a missile in January (which was based on North Korean designs) and its faked launch in September, are a blatant violations of the agreement.
The terms of the Corker-Cardin “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act” (INARA/ PL 114-17) require the president to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA every 90 days.
Full compliance under this law requires the United States to certify that: (1) Iran is fully implementing the JCPOA and all related agreements; (2) Iran has not committed (or if committed, has cured) a material breach; (3) Iran has taken no action to significantly advance its nuclear weapons program; and (4) that continued suspension of nuclear-related sanctions is both appropriate and vital to our national security interests.
It is impossible to argue that criterion four has been met when Iran's behavior in its totality is taken into account. This is exactly the logic the president followed on Friday.
How can you take President Trump's strong, clear denunciation of the dictatorship and argue that continued suspension of sanctions on Iran is both appropriate and vital to our national interest? It’s impossible.
Unlike President Obama, whose posture was all talk and no action, President Trump has begun to establish a pattern of taking real actions, creating real pressures, and insisting on real results.
President Trump’s decision to decertify is a clear and forceful articulation of the comprehensive Trump policy toward Iran.
However, he didn’t come to this decision alone. The President spent months working with his Cabinet to make this decision. Confronting the totality of the Iranian threat, while remaining in the JCPOA with an eye toward improving it, substantially reflects the influence of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In helping shape a new Iran policy that better provides for America’s security interests, Tillerson has proved to be an able advisor to the president, and has de-bunked media myths about a Trump-Tillerson rift in the process.
The administration should continue to oppose Iran's aggression in the region and seek to eliminate the fundamental flaws of the nuclear deal (starting with the sunset clauses).
As United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley made clear in her recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute, certification and the US continuation of the JCPOA are two separate decisions. Decertification leaves the President with continued flexibility and a number of options. In fact, decertification will increase the Administration's leverage to fix the nuclear deal by clarifying that the US will not be satisfied to remain indefinitely in an agreement that is not in our national security interests.
Conversely, signing recertification would have undermined every strong signal we have sent about the Iranian dictatorship. They would interpret it as America flinching and pulling back. It would have made the President’s powerful indictment of Iran and North Korea at the United Nations seem hollow.
President Trump’s decisive refusal to recertify the JCPOA has drawn a line and communicated clearly that the rollback of Iranian influence has begun. It was a brave and historically necessary step.