How to Get Serious About Iran
A four-step response to the bomb plot


Some of the details regarding Iran’s plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States are still murky, including who ultimately gave the order to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s secret Quds Force. But the implications aren’t. By any standard, planning to blow up the ambassador of an American ally, on U.S. soil, in a manner certain to kill American citizens, is tantamount to an act of war. And anyone who has deluded themselves into thinking that Iran would never be so reckless as to use a nuclear weapon if it acquired one should have no more doubts.

All the same, as NR’s Andrew C. McCarthy has pointed out, Americans are feeling a little gun-shy these days, given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Any proposal to deal with Iran that involves dropping bombs or sending troops would be (in the words of the Japanese foreign minister when President Obama proposed publicly apologizing for the bombing of Hiroshima) a “non-starter.” Nor is the current occupant of the White House likely to take such steps. After all, we know President Obama learned about the plot back in June — and that he still saw going to the U.N. to ask for sanctions as the best way to deal with the murderers in Tehran.

There are, however, several steps the United States can take, right now, short of military action — and more forceful than another round of toothless sanctions.

First, the State Department should formally declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force to be foreign terrorist organizations, putting them in the same unsavory company as al-Qaeda and Hamas. Incredibly, this has not been done. In 2007, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution to that effect, but the IRGC is still off the official list.

This will not only allow us to take tougher unilateral sanctions against Iran — the Revolutionary Guard virtually runs the country’s economy — but will empower our security agencies, including the Pentagon, to actively disrupt the flows of funds being laundered by the Revolutionary Guard, while American banks will be forced to freeze all funds in which the IRGC or its agents(including foreign subsidiaries) have an interest.

Second, the government should reveal to the American public the full extent of Iran’s support for those killing our soldiers in Afghanistan now, and killing our soldiers in Iraq in the past.

Former secretary of defense Robert Gates warned constantly about Iran’s role in funding and supplying the terror insurgency in Afghanistan. Now it’s time to shout the news from the Oval Office, in a nationwide address. Americans deserve to know how many of their casualties in these two wars — in Iraq, perhaps as many as one in four — can be traced directly to Iran and the IRGC.

Third, America should call for a conference of Persian Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the Gulf emirates, and Iraq, to organize a NATO-style Persian Gulf Treaty Organization, pledging U.S. support to help those countries respond to any future Iranian aggression. The organization’s first act should be a full round of naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, kicking off what ought to become an annual event.

Likewise, that same organization would pledge its sympathy and support for Iranian dissident groups. The Obama administration has twice missed the boat on reaching out to them, even when Iranians were protesting and dying in the streets. Now is the time to show the Iranian people that their enemy — the Ahmadinejad regime — is ours, as well.

Fourth, the administration should make it crystal clear that Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon will not be tolerated, and that if necessary the U.S. will act unilaterally to prevent that from happening — or offer full support to any country, such as Israel, that would see that weapon as a mortal threat and need to take preventive action as a matter of self-defense.

If any single Obama Middle East policy has encouraged Iranian aggression, it’s been his hostility toward Israel. Tehran has sought Israel’s isolation from its allies and neighbors precisely because it knows the Jewish state is the No. 1 regional obstacle to Iran’s hegemony in the Middle East. It’s succeeded with Europe and Turkey, who now see Israel as the great disruptor of peace and stability in the region, and it’s about to succeed in Egypt. Obama’s cold shoulder toward Israel has been Tehran’s unwitting helper. Now we have to show Ahmadinejad that we view Israel’s right of self-defense as directly intertwined with ours — indeed, this bomb plot makes that linkage imperative.

Will the Obama administration take these steps, or do anything similarly decisive? Don’t count on it. But the moment for this sort of policy change has arrived. In 1980, America needed a president willing to halt the growing threat of the Soviet Union, and found one in Ronald Reagan. What’s needed now is a president willing to keep this, our latest rendezvous with destiny. 

— Arthur Herman is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.