National Security & Defense

It’s Time for an Iran-Deal Reckoning

Former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry discuss the Iran nuclear deal at the White House, September 10, 2015. (Kevin Lamarque )
The Obama administration’s ‘norms’ and ‘values’ included deception and weakness.

The “scandal-free” Obama administration sure liked to lie a lot. This morning, America awoke to yet another revelation that Obama officials misled Congress about their dealings with Iran.

A Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report alleges that the administration secretly sought to give Iran access — albeit briefly — to the U.S. financial system by sidestepping sanctions kept in place after the 2015 nuclear deal, despite repeatedly telling Congress and the public it had no plans to do so. Specifically, the Obama Treasury Department issued a license that would have allowed U.S. banks to participate in a scheme to convert $5.7 billion in Iranian funds into U.S. dollars and then euros. The American banks declined to participate, “citing the reputational risk of doing business with or for Iran.” The license wasn’t unlawful, but, to quote the Associated Press, it “went above and beyond what the Obama administration was required to do under the terms of the nuclear agreement.”

In other words, the Obama administration tried to do Iran an immense financial favor, one not required by the deal itself, to uphold the mythical “spirit” of the agreement (yes, that’s their off-the-record excuse). Iran had reportedly complained that it “wasn’t reaping the benefits it envisioned,” and the Obama administration attempted to help — even though it had publicly assured Americans that “Iran will be denied access to the world’s most important market and unable to deal in the world’s most important currency.”

The Iran deal was a deceptive dereliction of duty from the outset, resting on a fundamentally flawed understanding of Iran, the Middle East, and the world. The world’s greatest power confronted a third-tier nation with a fourth-tier military, and practically begged to avoid conflict.

Keep in mind, this attempted favor happened even as the Obama administration’s pie-in-the-sky hopes for the deal were crumbling before the world’s eyes. It was the administration’s hope that lifting sanctions, bringing Iran back into international markets, and providing it with immense sums of cold, hard cash would somehow make the jihadist regime want to “fully rejoin the community of nations.” Commerce and forbearance would work their magic, Iran would moderate, and we’d have peace in our time.

Instead, it was already clear that Iran wasn’t moderating one inch. It was pocketing its financial rewards and redoubling its international support for terrorism. It was still America’s enemy. It was still trying to kill American troops. So naturally, the Obama administration tried to increase its bribe.

We also can’t forget the extent to which the entire agreement was built on an edifice of lies. Remember this, from a New York Times profile of Obama deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes?

The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal. Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false. Obama’s closest advisers always understood him to be eager to do a deal with Iran as far back as 2012, and even since the beginning of his presidency.

The Iran deal was a deceptive dereliction of duty from the outset, resting on a fundamentally flawed understanding of Iran, the Middle East, and the world. The world’s greatest power confronted a third-tier nation with a fourth-tier military, and practically begged to avoid conflict.

In exchange for milquetoast assurances about Iran’s nuclear program — How milquetoast? Just yesterday we learned that Iran opened a new centrifuge assembly center at its Natanz nuclear site — the Obama administration allowed Iran access to international arms markets, agreed to an immense stimulus through sanctions relief, and traded pallets of cash for American hostages. Worse still, it gave money back to Iran even as it used American tax dollars (instead of Iran’s own funds) to compensate American victims of Iranian terror.

The best possible spin on the deal is that the Obama administration gambled on its own misbegotten ideology, believing against all evidence that massive giveaways would soften jihadist hearts. The more cynical take says that the administration simply gave away its bargaining position in a heavily politicized quest for a legacy-making agreement. The agreement’s terms were less important than its mere existence, a feather in the cap of an erstwhile “peace president.”

In the age of Trump, too many progressives are busy rewriting history. Yes, they’re right to decry the current administration’s many falsehoods, but they should spare a moment for self-reflection. The Obama administration sold a foreign-policy disaster to the American people in part through systematic, intentional deceptions. That’s a profound violation of the very “norms” and “values” the #resistance now claims to defend.

Indeed, the Trump administration would have to work hard to replicate the Obama administration’s mistakes and evasions. As it approaches the North Korean summit, it has an opportunity to show that the lure of a deal with a longtime enemy (and all the domestic and international accolades that invariably accompany empty diplomacy) need not lead to foolish compromises or silly giveaways.

The United States is the world’s great power. We hold the military and economic cards. The Obama administration did worse than squander our advantages; it lied to enable its errors. The Trump administration has an opportunity to strike a different kind of deal. May it learn from the dreadful, recent past.

NOW WATCH: Obama Administration Secretly Helped Iran Skirt Financial Sanctions

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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