The Obama administration has just reached an agreement with a jihadist, aspiring nuclear nation that is in an unofficial state of war with the United States, granting that nation massive, nearly immediate economic benefits without ending either its jihad or its nuclear program. This is what President Obama calls victory. History will likely view it as a catastrophe.
Make no mistake, the current Iranian regime has been waging a nearly continual, low-intensity military conflict with the United States since 1979, when it seized the American embassy in Tehran and held more than 50 Americans hostage for 444 days. Since then it has engineered terror attacks in Beirut and Saudi Arabia that killed hundreds of Americans, engaged in open hostilities against American warships in the Persian Gulf, and planned and directed deadly attacks on American troops in Iraq. Its unstinting support for the Afghan Taliban continues unabated to this very day.
Against this backdrop, the Obama administration has reached a deal that will directly enrich Iran with billions of dollars in new economic activity, and, worse still, will gradually ease the international arms embargo the country faces. All in exchange for a series of promises that even if kept will only slow — as opposed to stopping — Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The world’s most prolific terror-exporting nation keeps its nuclear program, maintains its support for anti-American jihadists, receives the mother of all economic-stimulus packages, and gains access to the international arms market. What’s not to love?
This is what President Obama calls victory. History will likely view it as a catastrophe.
The Obama administration and its defenders insist that the alternative to this agreement is a “catastrophic” war that could potentially lead to Iran obtaining the bomb even sooner. In other words, a consequence of the allegedly profound limits on American power is that we have no real choice but to actually enrich our declared enemies, bribing them to walk instead of running to the world’s first jihadist bomb.
Yet America’s economic and military limits are largely self-imposed. While the sanctions regime would be undeniably difficult to maintain as we sought to gain meaningful concessions from Iran — including a real treaty that stops Iran from arming and funding America’s terrorist enemies — our economic partners may be more willing to cooperate if they understand that the alternative to sanctions wasn’t an unsatisfactory deal but rather a truly comprehensive series of military strikes.
It is important to understand that when America’s leaders speak of the limits of American military power, they are generally referring to the limits they’ve placed on the use of our armed forces. In other words, our ability to stop or delay Iran’s nuclear program is limited by the fact that any military campaign we’d employ would likely feature a short series of pinprick strikes. And yes, that would likely trigger a wider regional conflict, one which wouldn’t substantially degrade Iran’s nuclear infrastructure but would grant it incentives to push toward nuclear “breakout.”
It is nonetheless past time for American to break its own military shackles. American air power can overwhelm Iranian defenses, render it helpless in the face of a sustained assault, demolish its conventional military power, and destroy its oil-producing capacity indefinitely. We could ruin Iran — militarily, economically, and strategically — and there is nothing that Iran could do to stop it. Our military options are generally limited by our own will, not by the raw power of our armed forces.But that’s the core of the problem — American will. Our post-Iraq reality is that the best chance to avoid war lies in persuading our friends and enemies of American strength and resolve. Yet post-Iraq America is singularly unwilling to project the strength and resolve needed to expand our diplomatic options. So we abandon Iraq, then re-enter the nation with insufficient strength to turn the tide against ISIS. We negotiate with Iran, all the while telling the world that we’re not serious about our military options, preemptively dooming the sanctions regime.
Under those self-inflicted circumstances, perhaps this truly is the “best” deal the Obama administration could make. Circumstances can change, but change requires leadership, someone to make the case to a public weary of conflict and skeptical of government claims of the danger of weapons of mass destruction. As the world risks expanded sectarian conflicts, a more powerful terror-exporting Iran, and a potential jihadist bomb, now is not the time to limit American power or American options. Under the terms of the Corker bill, the ball is now in Congress’s court. Will the Obama administration’s failure become America’s failure? We shall soon see.
— David French is an attorney, a staff writer at National Review, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.