Politics & Policy

Jeb’s Already Going Wobbly on Iran

(Ethan Miller/Getty)

Congress will hold the first of several hearings on Obama’s Iran deal this Thursday, with some Democrats likely to join unified Republicans in opposing the disaster negotiated in Vienna. Getting the votes to send a disapproval to Obama’s desk should be doable. The two-thirds majority needed to override a certain Obama veto is harder to obtain, but not impossible. 

GOP aspirants to the presidency have all expressed opposition to the deal. When he joined the race last Monday, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker promised to end the appeasement scheme with Tehran on “day one” of his administration if elected. (Full disclosure: I’ve endorsed Walker’s candidacy.) Other candidates have promised to kill the accommodation early in their tenure if elected, except for one: Jeb Bush.

Speaking on Friday in what was seen as a pointed jab at Walker specifically, Jeb vowed not to signal the end of a deal at the outset of his notional presidency. His excuse: the lack of a fully emplaced national-security team at that time, whose confirmation would take the better part of a year. In remarks similar to his scolding of the party on amnesty and Common Core, Jeb told a Nevada audience: “If you’re running for president, I think it’s important to be mature and thoughtful about this.” 

Whether or not Congress stops Obama’s Iran deal, our next president ought to change our dealings with Tehran beginning with his inaugural address.

This was a very Bush statement: preemptive diffidence masquerading as maturity. Furthermore, it’s not just a bad political move that detracts from the current disapproval effort on Capitol Hill; it’s also bad policy.

Whether or not Congress stops Obama’s Iran deal, our next president, beginning with his inaugural address, ought to change our dealings with Tehran. Administrations of both parties have ignored Iranian conduct consistently since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran never paid much price for sins such as taking American diplomats hostage, bombing the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon, likely aiding the bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks for U.S. servicemen, and planning a mass-casualty political assassination in Washington, D.C., in 2011. 

Another lapse was the decision of Jeb’s brother to downplay Tehran’s role in killing and maiming Americans in Iraq during the insurgency.

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Many of us at junior levels of the George W. Bush administration were appalled at what Tehran was getting away with doing to our servicemen. So too were many military officers, who at a minimum wanted the Iranian government called out for training and equipping insurgents. Better still would have been targeting the Iranian operatives who were inside Iraq.

President Bush largely rejected getting tough with Tehran, even after it was clear that it was responsible for hundreds of American deaths. Some of Bush’s senior advisers, much like Obama’s today, thought that pushing back on Iran was too provocative, failing to realize that weakness can be provocative, too.

In the current campaign, Jeb has said that he is his own man, conveying an unsubtle message that he won’t repeat his brother’s shortcomings. However, he has hired some of the same people who advised his brother poorly on Iran. Furthermore, his scolding of other Republicans on Iran sounds a lot like the Bushes of yesteryear.

RELATED: Iran Is Obama’s Vietnam

What could Scott Walker or another Republican do from the outset of his presidency? To put credence behind a demand that Iran cease its nuclear program, he could immediately reapply all of the congressionally imposed sanctions that Obama has eased. He could ban any bank worldwide that wishes to clear transactions in U.S. dollars from doing business with Iran. He could throw the full weight of the Trading With the Enemy Act against Iran, along with its legislative descendants, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Patriot Act.

These steps could be achieved by executive orders and findings that were prepared for Inauguration Day or shortly thereafter. Ronald Reagan’s inauguration serves as a precedent. He signed a federal hiring freeze moments after taking the oath of office and issued an executive order that deregulated energy markets within days, signaling that there was a new sheriff in town who was both bold and – to use Jeb’s term – mature.

#related#Just as important would be moral clarity. Whereas Obama used his first inaugural address to romance our adversaries, promising to “outstretch our hand,” the next president could instead express support for the aspirations of young, modern Iranians who do not want Islamist tyranny in their country. 

The president-elect could also use the 73 days between his election and inauguration to signal allies around the world that America’s approach to Iran would be changing. By leading from the front rather than from behind, we will find allies across the Middle East standing with us.

Even Jeb should realize that this is mature. However, it’s also bold, decisive, and unapologetically conservative — traits that have proved sparse in Bush DNA.

— Christian Whiton was a State Department senior adviser during the George W. Bush administration. He is the author of Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated since its initial posting.


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