By Reza Behrouz
As the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are steadfastly committing themselves to restoration of the Iran nuclear deal (otherwise known as the JCPOA), they almost invariably overlook the fine print associated with it. With Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren at the forefront, this assembly of presidential hopefuls have a common slogan: President Trump recklessly withdrew from a deal “that was working,” and this action led to retaliation from the Iranian regime. Their attempts to blame Trump for the malign activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are, of course, politically motivated. Yet, one would wonder how certain are these politicians that the deal was working. The reality is that Trump did not unconventionally reneged on the Iran deal; the deal failed on its own. Why did the JCOPA fail? The short answer is that it was not enacted in good faith. In other words, the Obama Administration deceived the American public, as well as the Congress, into accepting a deal that was questionable from the start. Furthermore, Obama was less than forthcoming with the details of the agreement and the actions that ensued the enactment of the JCPOA.
The deal was so flawed that the Obama Administration had to obfuscate facts about its substance to be able to sell it to the American people. A Soviet-style propaganda mechanism was initiated by Obama’s foreign policy advisor, Ben Rhodes and the National Iranian American Council, the regime’s lobby in the US. Joseph Cirincione, the president of Ploughshares Fund, provided financial support for this campaign. Per Rhodes, they created an “echo chamber,” incessantly pressing the notion that a vote of no confidence to the Iran deal would be akin to voting for war. This scheme was exposed when Rhodes grandiosely boasted about his talent in conspiracy design.
Compared to other dubious aspects of the Iran deal, the method by which the deal was forced upon the American people was quite minor. A key component of the deal was that 15 years from signing, the whole thing would go out the window, and Iran could proceed with their nuclear program. This was in exchange for Tehran’s thin assurances that they would limit uranium enrichment to 3 percent and reduce the number of centrifuges needed to advance their nuclear program from 19,000 to 6,000. The monitoring and accountability regime put in place to ensure compliance was never robust enough to work. This point was raised repeatedly by experts during negotiations and by even more than a dozen Democratic Senators in 2016 (some of whom are now running for president) but the Obama Administration just wanted a deal done.
So obsessed was the Obama Administration with fulfilling this transaction, it essentially contravened and concealed matters that pertained to national security. Obama derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign called Project Cassandra, targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the US. The Project followed cocaine shipments, tracked a river of dirty cash, and traced what they believed to be the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran. The administration also rejected repeated efforts by Project Cassandra members to charge Hezbollah’s military wing as an ongoing criminal enterprise under a federal Mafia-style racketeering statute. Ali Fayad is a good example. A Hezbollah arms dealer, Fayad was arrested in 2014 in Prague. Yet, for the nearly two years Fayad was in custody, top Obama Administration officials declined to apply serious pressure on the Czech government to extradite him to the US. Fayad, who had been indicted in US courts on charges of planning the murders of US government employees, attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to acquire, transfer and use anti-aircraft missiles, was ultimately released and sent back to Beirut. He is now believed by US officials to be back in business, and helping to arm militants in Syria and elsewhere with Russian heavy weapons.
The Obama administration officials were very much concerned with alienating Tehran before, during and after the Iran nuclear deal negotiations. Any investigation involving Iran or Hezbollah was defunded.
As the deal took shape, Obama announced the “one-time gesture” of releasing Iranian-born prisoners who “were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses” as a modest trade-off for the greater good of the Iran nuclear agreement and Tehran’s pledge to free five Americans. In a highly choreographed rollout of the prisoner swap, 14 prisoners were freed as “civilian” businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.” In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. For example, Behrouz Dolatzadeh, was charged with conspiring to buy thousands of US-made assault rifles and illegally import them into Iran. Amin Ravan, was charged with smuggling US military antennas to Hong Kong and Singapore for use in Iran. US authorities also believe he was part of a procurement network providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED used by Shi’ite militias to kill hundreds of American troops in Iraq. Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China.
After the deal was agreed upon (it was never signed), Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations revealed that Obama’s Treasury Department issued a license in February 2016, never previously disclosed, that would have allowed Iran to convert $5.7 billion it held at a bank in Oman from Omani Rials into euros by exchanging them first into US dollars. Issuing the license was not illegal. Still, it went above and beyond what the Obama administration was required to do under the terms of the nuclear agreement.
There were also unsubstantiated reports that the Obama Administration granted US citizenship to 2,500 Iranians during negotiations. Although the Obama administration contended there was “zero truth to this allegation,” Hojjat al-Islam Mojtaba Zolnour, a high-ranking Member of Parliament and chairman of Iran’s parliamentary nuclear committee, made the claim to Iranian state media. Zolnour’s claim was dismissed by former Obama officials as a hardliner’s cudgel against his more “moderate” foes in Tehran. Any Iranian dissident in the US would agree that there are relatives or children of regime officials who are living and working/studying in the US, and that their presence grew exponentially during the Obama presidency.
Obama wanted his Iran deal at all costs, and those costs were high. Whether Obama truly cared if the deal survived after he left office is unknown, but it was bound to collapse sooner or later. JCPOA was a house of cards ready to crumble long before Trump “unilaterally and grudgingly” decommissioned it; the cracks were already visible. Obama Administration resorting to unconventional methods to promote the deal, in addition to surreptitious transactions and side deals that toyed with national security represent one side of why JCPOA lost its validity. An equally important reason is that the mullah regime officials – even those whom the Obama clan considered “moderates” – are not by any means trustworthy. It is naïve to presume the US or any country can come to terms with a rogue state over a handshake. The Iranian regime was more dangerous and menacing under the JCPOA because it had access to funds and could continue with its destructive conduct, including the ballistic missiles program, so long as it demonstrated compliance with the terms. It was like making a deal with a criminal that if he stops burglarizing the neighborhood, he will receive $100 per month. And while he continues to commit rape and murder, he expects his monthly $100 since he is complying with what he agreed on. The rest of his crimes are non-negotiable.
Dr. Reza Behrouz is an Iranian-American physician and dissident based in Texas, United Sates.