Forty years ago today, a mob of Islamist extremists under the direction of Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the United States embassy in Tehran, seizing 52 American hostages in a brazen act of war. Because of President Carter’s failure to respond in a strong and strategic way, the ayatollah held those Americans hostage for 444 days—and got the message that they could push America around. (Iran released the hostages on the eve of President Reagan’s inauguration because they knew that an era of peace through strength was beginning.) Almost exactly six months before that dark November day, I and my family arrived in the U.S., the legal way, to seek political asylum from a brutal regime whose chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” are synonymous with the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
For 40 years the message of hatred by Iranian government hard-liners — many of whom are not only political allies of former president Khatami and current president Rouhani but are also among the organizers of the hostage taking — against the United States and Israel has remained the same, as has its support for terrorism against Americans. In 1983, Iran’s proxies carried out one of the first Islamist suicide bombings, killing 241 Americans at the Marine barracks in Lebanon while they were helping to end that country’s awful civil war.
Then, for eight years, President Barack Obama sent Iran the same message of weakness that President Carter had. Now Iran has been even more emboldened, with its latest attacks on international shipping and against Saudi Arabia’s most important oil facilities demonstrating a dangerous escalation of the confrontation. The U.S. and its allies must stand up to the Iranian government, or we will be sending a message of weakness that will only bring more Iranian aggression.
Iran has sent a clear message to our allies: Support U.S. sanctions against Iran and you will suffer grave consequences. If we don’t send an equally clear message that we won’t tolerate attacks against us and our allies, the entire Middle East will become even more unstable than it is now.
The more aggressive Iran grows while the U.S. does nothing, the more our allies will start losing faith in us. They will hedge their bets, in part by appeasing Iran, as they have done in the past. That would be a fatal blow to our alliances in the region, and to our effort to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
President Trump was right to abandon Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. The nuclear deal, or JCPOA, was a shameful surrender, in which we gave Iran almost everything they wanted and got almost nothing of what we — and the U.N. Security Council — had been demanding for a decade. The so-called moderates that Obama negotiated with (and who currently have positions inside Iran’s government) are also the same individuals involved with the hostage crisis.
Obama’s surrender was a huge victory for the mullahs in Tehran, and it emboldened them to extend their networks across the Middle East, over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Now they are moving to break up our alliances and force Saudi Arabia and the UAE to assume a more pro-Islamic posture.
If we do nothing, they will succeed. If they succeed, our ability to maintain peace through strength and prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons will fail. For 40 years, the regime of Khomeini and the mullahs has shown the world how evil it is, and the world must stand up to it.