Say ‘no’ to Iran, because our Middle East allies deserve better

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At some point in the second term of any presidency, the soaring eagle becomes a lame-duck with more quack than quake in its steps. With his place in history assured, President Obama has forged a new healthcare regime, restored relations with Cuba, made unprecedented visits and negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran. The latter of these strains U.S. relations with America’s staunchest Middle East allies — Israel and Saudi Arabia — beyond credulity, and suggests the president may be too absorbed in creating his own legacy to think clearly.

{mosads}Obama called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “the most consequential foreign policy debate our country has had since the invasion of Iraq.” The Iran nuclear deal, according to its own terms, sought to “enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)” and to treat Iran like any other law-abiding member of the international community. But Iran is not like any other law-abiding nation in the world.

Iran says “death to America” and our “arrogant government”

By any objective measure, the threat from Iran is clear and present. Even with the benefit of the doubt, it has proven time and again to be anathema to U.S. national interests, which include opposition to state-sponsored terrorism, a secure Israel and a strong Saudi Arabia. If anyone thought for a moment that the rhetoric has softened, the words of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in two separate statements last July are sobering: “You heard ‘death to Israel,’ ‘death to the U.S.’ … So we ask Almighty God to accept these prayers by the people of Iran.”

Later, the ayatollah said, “[O]ur policy regarding the arrogant U.S. government will not change. … We don’t have any negotiations or deal with the U.S. on different issues in the world or region. Fighting global arrogance is the core of our revolution and we cannot put it on hold. Get ready to continue your fight against the global arrogance. … The U.S. is the true embodiment of the global arrogance.” These are not comforting words from a nation that will gain over $150 billion and the keys to the nuclear kingdom now that the ink on the deal is dry.

And yet, many in Congress chose to overlook these bright line signs of Iranian imperialism and walk down the primrose path with a president on his way out the door. Reasonable minds must wonder at what price is loyalty to Obama too high. To paraphrase an old maxim, moderation in the pursuit of justice (or in this case, security) is no virtue. Silence based on solidarity may have its place in domestic politics, but not when it comes to the balance of power in the Middle East.

Our strongest allies are concerned

It is not often that the political and security concerns of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia align, but that is the case with Iran. Iran’s expansionist aspirations are transparent and transcendent, and it is not coincidental that America’s key regional allies are opposed to the deal. If there is a Great Satan in the region, it will resemble Iran. The deal has emboldened Iran to pursue its own ambitions to become the preeminent power in the Arabian Gulf. As Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S., stated in July, “America’s allies in the region’s intelligence all predict not only the same outcome of the North Korean nuclear deal but worse — with the billions of dollars that Iran will have access to.” The Saudis surely know a bad deal when they see one, and the stakes for them are as high if not higher than any, given the two-front war they are fighting — one against well-funded Iranian proxies.

Treaty or not, Congress can change things

Secretary of State John Kerry went to great lengths to cast the Iran nuclear deal as a “political agreement,” although constitutional scholar Bruce Fein suggests that it is “more like a treaty than anything else.” Treaty or not, Congress should have rejected it from the beginning, which would not have been unprecedented. Throughout American history, Congress has rejected executive branch agreements or required significant changes. Close to 200 treaties, including 80 multilateral agreements, have been modified before they were approved by Congress. Such an outcome would have been a more prudent move to protect American national security interests and to redeem the U.S.-Israel and the U.S.-Saudi relationships, both of which the president has pawned in favor of misplaced reliance on the “international community.” It is no wonder his visit to Riyadh was downgraded to that of a second-rate world power.

Renewing American national interests

As we near the one-year mark of an ill-advised gift to Iran, let’s hope that Obama’s myopia will not indelibly shape our long-term Gulf policy. Whether it’s Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump, the new president and the new Congress should chart a different path for global leadership — one based on the realpolitik of American national interests. If, for some untold reason, the new administration inexplicably wants to stay the course, it should look to our most reliable regional allies — Israel and Saudi Arabia — for guidance. These two nations — for completely different reasons — will educate the next president on the danger of discounting old alliances for a new one.

Thus, if America’s new leader is concerned about how the rest of the world will view an about-face on our policy toward Iran, there will be countless opportunities to mend fences on economic, trade, humanitarian and security matters in the future. When it comes to closer relations with Iran, it is time for the U.S. to just say “no.”

Hoffman is chairman of Business in the Public Interest and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. He is former counsel to the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Iran Iran nuclear agreement Iran nuclear deal Israel JCPOA John Kerry Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Saudi Arabia
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