By the Apadana Chronicle Editorial Board
The evening of June 26, 2019 was the first Democratic presidential debate. Ten presidential hopefuls were on stage for the initial round of debates. When asked by moderator, Lester Holt, who among them — by show of hand — would rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (aka JCPOA) as it was written and agreed upon, the only one that did not raise his had was Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). He stated, “We need to renegotiate and get back into a deal, but I’m not going to have a primary platform to say unilaterally I’m going to rejoin that deal. Because when I’m president of the United States, I’m going to do the best I can to secure this country and that region and make sure that if I have an opportunity to leverage a better deal, I’m going to do it.”
At least one of them was realistic and true to himself and the American people about a deal that has been, not on life support, but dead for several months. Booker did, however, say that it was a mistake to pull out of that deal, and “one of the reasons why we’re seeing this hostility now is because Donald Trump is marching us to a far more dangerous situation.”
President Trump wasn’t wrong. The deal was fatally flawed. Even as it was being negotiated, critics in the Middle East and beyond complained that the Obama administration was ignoring the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities in the region. They feared the mullahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps would use the political cover provided by the JCPOA to step up their threatening behavior.
They were correct. Since the deal, the Iranian regime grew more belligerent. In Syria, it has helped Bashar al-Assad slaughter his own citizens. In Lebanon and Palestine, Iraq and Yemen, it has continued to arm brutal proxy militia. It intensified its pursuit of ballistic-missile technology and its cyberattacks against the U.S. If an agreement limited to nuclear weapons was too narrow in 2015, the mullah regime’s actions since have made such a deal entirely insufficient and obsolete. Furthermore, the IRGC’s recent violent behavior in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz indicates that the alternative to the Iran deal will be destruction and terrorism. So for nearly three years, the regime had in effect taken the world hostage by presumably complying with the deal.
Europe’s desperate efforts to come up with a plan for the Iranian regime to skirt US sanctions have repeatedly failed. Impatient mullahs have indicated that they will violate certain terms of the JCPOA in the coming weeks. These are indications that restoration of the deal in its original form is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible.
The Trump Administration has also taken measures rendering a “snap back” to the deal impractical. Most recently, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ali Khamenei, was sanctioned by OFAC and placed under the Specially Designated Nationals list. There are reports that the Treasury Department is also planning on designating the regime’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif. These actions are not minor obstacles to renegotiation of the original deal, much less to its reflexive restoration. Designation of Zarif, for example, could depict two things: 1) the Trump administration does not regard him as a reliable figure or as having adequate power for negotiations, and 2) the administration aims to dispel regime-aligned lobbies in the US that have been largely created and operated by Zarif (example, the National Iranian American Council).
For Democratic candidates to believe they could restore the deal with a simple ink signature only demonstrates their naïveté and obtuse grasp on foreign affairs and international transactions. These individuals should ignore the text of the JCPOA, and focus their attention on the side dealings between the Obama administration and the mullahs on the fringes of the official agreement. Beyond the JCPOA, the regime was never open to further negotiations on any other issues, including IRGC’s ballistic missile program, support of terrorist factions, and human rights violations. Khamenei, and even Zarif, explicitly voiced this policy. Therefore, continuing Obama’s strategy based on the optimism that the JCPOA would serve as a gateway to future negotiations on the regime’s malign behavior is absurd.
For many years, the Islamic Republic used its nuclear program as leverage to frighten world powers into negotiating for sanctions relief. This exaggerated supremacy and tendency to devastate, largely promulgated by IRGC propagandists, eventually culminated in the JCPOA. Whether the regime ever truly possessed such fearsome technology is now irrelevant, but thanks to President Trump, the mullahs have undoubtedly lost the leverage they had in 2015. As such, they have resorted to wreaking havoc in the Persian Gulf region. At this time, having the upper hand, the US should speak from a position of strength and not give in to the regime by apologetically rushing back to an unsound agreement. Any president in the White House should pursue a much more comprehensive “deal” that obligates the regime to comply with Secretary Pompeo’s twelve-point plan and certainly one that is inclusive of the Iranian people and supports their plight for liberty and democracy.