Opinion | National Security

Trump is right to counter Iran's terror — combat vets have seen its effects

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

From Lebanon to Iraq, and from Argentina to the high seas, the mullahs of Iran long have spread and sponsored terror in an attempt to exert their will on the rest of the world. They're at it again in Saudi Arabia, propping up Houthi Shiite rebels and reportedly sponsoring attacks on that nation's oil infrastructure. As Iran's leaders feel the squeeze of the Trump administration's decision to reinforce economic sanctions, they predictably are acting out to try to extort a better outcome for themselves.

Along with other veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I've seen firsthand the effects of Iran's state-sponsored terror. In 2008 and 2009, I led a counter-improvised explosive device (IED) team in Afghanistan and we found an explosively formed penetrator (EFP), a type of IED that was most certainly of Iranian origin. During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. Department of Defense estimates that at least 608 (and likely more) Americans were  killed by Iranian EFPs and other Iranian methods.

The EFP is one of the few devices that has the capacity to consistently pierce the armor of American mine-resistant vehicles and to kill those inside; hence, the reason that Iran seeded the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan with these devices. The Iranian government sought to kill as many American service members as possible. This is the true nature and desire of those who lead the Iranian government, and there is no sign of this changing anytime soon.

Despite this record of terror and murder, President Obama's 2015 Iran nuclear deal gave the Iranian government access to over $100 billion in assets that had been frozen following the 1979 Iranian revolution and previous episodes of Iranian terrorism. Since the agreement went into effect, estimates show about $1.7 billion of those assets have been used to fund terrorism through Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies. 

Recently, that same Iran deal money likely has been used to fund the rebels who launched the attacks on Saudi Arabia. Put simply, the assets released by the Obama administration have been converted into blood money. 

The nuclear deal also allowed the Iranian government to continue to enrich uranium, albeit with various restrictions placed on the type and volume of uranium. The deal also pushed off Iran's ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium for years. The Obama administration pitched these potential delays as a win. But, if you have children - or simply hope to live at least another decade or two - these are hardly comforting numbers, given Iran's acknowledged status as the world's leading terror state.

Before turning over such a massive stock of funding to terrorists, one would have hoped that at least President Barack Obama would have examined why Iran needs nuclear power at all. Iran is estimated to have about 18 percent of the world's natural gas reserves, the second most of any country in the world, next to Russia. And natural gas is the cleanest, cheapest way to provide critical baseload power to a country's electrical grid.

The truth is that Iran doesn't need nuclear plants to power its electrical grid. Instead, Iran is fighting for its ability to continue to enrich uranium and produce plutonium because it wants to construct nuclear weapons to further perpetrate terror. 

Today, Iran is lashing out in Saudi Arabia and in the Strait of Hormuz because the mullahs know that the glide path to power created by the Obama administration has been dismantled by the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Iran deal in 2018. Since the U.S. reinstated sanctions, the Iranian gross domestic product shrunk by 3.9 percent in 2018 - and is projected by the International Monetary Fund to shrink by 6 percent more in 2019. Meanwhile, the Iranian rial has lost 60 percent of its value versus the dollar.

The same tired group of "foreign policy experts" who cheered the creation of an Iran nuclear deal that handed cash, time and continued nuclear capability to a proven terror state now are pointing fingers at the Trump administration and blaming them for Iran's bad behavior. This is patently absurd. In the Obama administration and its allies, Iran knew it had patsies. Today, as their economy folds, the terrorists who run the Iranian government know they are running out of time.  

Terrorists don't change their stripes, and should not be given time and resources to sponsor greater terror. This statement is not a call to war; it is a recognition that putting Iran on the path to becoming a nuclear power within the next 10 to 15 years was not a good deal for the American people.  

President Trump is right to ratchet up the economic and diplomatic pressure on the Iranian government, to reduce their capability to fund terror, to disrupt their ability to develop nuclear weapons, and to shorten their political lifespan. The Iranian regime no doubt will continue to lash out as the pressure intensifies, but they will do so without the nuclear weapons that they desire. 

None of us should want future generations of Americans to deal ever again with the carnage that Iranian EFPs have caused on battlefields far from home. Nor should we want them to live in fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon pointed at their homes. To ensure these scenarios do not come to pass, the Trump administration should not be swayed by Iran's recent provocations, and must continue to ratchet up the pressure on the failing Iranian terrorist regime.

Kevin Nicholson is president and CEO of No Better Friend Corp., a conservative public policy group in Wisconsin. He is a combat veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps (Iraq, 2007 and Afghanistan, 2008-2009) and was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMNicholson.

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