May 14, 2018

Obama, Not Trump, Shattered U.S. Credibility Over Iran

Critics claim President Trump’s decision to nix the Iranian nuclear deal dealt a major blow to the United States’ credibility on the world stage. These pundits are confused: it was Obama, not Trump, who shattered America's credibility with key allies.

President Obama’s failure to enforce his own “red line” in 2013 exacerbated an already volatile regional situation, while the 2015 Iran deal further fed the Islamist state’s militaristic ambitions throughout the greater Middle East. More than 500,000 are dead in Syria, Yemen has become “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” and tensions between Israel and Iran are at an all-time high.

The aftermath of this horrible deal has been catastrophic, particularly for our allies, and President Trump is taking a proactive role in rebuilding trust with key regional partners.

Talking heads seem to have erased from their memory the damage that Barack Obama caused by entering the United States into this deal. Nearly every major partner of the United States in the Middle East vociferously opposed the deal from the onset. Despite this, Obama wanted to secure a signature achievement to cement his foreign policy legacy.

Panic ensued as it looked all but inevitable that Obama would enter an arrangement with little concern for America’s Middle East allies. Representatives and diplomats from Jerusalem, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi stormed Capitol Hill and the White House to try to halt the impending deal knowing it would shift the regional power balance toward Tehran.

Nevertheless, the previous administration penned the agreement, and American credibility was dealt a major blow. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would go on to lambast Obama just hours after he signed the deal calling it a “historic mistake.” There were cheers for the deal though — in the streets of Tehran.

Khamenei couldn’t have played his cards any better. Contrary to what some may think, Iran's supreme leader is not the irrational religious fanatic that is generally portrayed. He is certainly driven by ideology, but he has shown a patience in consolidating regional influence.

The Iranian nuclear deal had a near perfect outcome for the regime. It would free up billions of dollars to bankroll the Ayatollah’s expansionism. These funds would then be used to arm the regime’s proxies. Better yet, Iran would be able to obtain a nuclear weapon in due time thanks to sunset clauses in the agreement. The regime’s ICBM program also went unscathed. Slow and steady wins the race.

Likely emboldened by Obama’s willingness to tolerate its maligned activities and sidestep America’s traditional allies in the region, the Supreme Leader acted swiftly to advance his hegemonic vision. Khamenei first set his sights on Syria where strongman Bashar-al Assad was on the verge of collapse. Armaments, munitions, and fighters were immediately used to prop up the regime. Tehran also called upon its proxy Islamist group, Hezbollah, to send thousands of fighters over the border in support of Assad.

Since the deal, Tehran has decided to entrench itself further in the fledgling state. Iran is estimated to have a force of 20,000 troops from various militias while simultaneously operating 10 military installations with two near the Israeli border. A future confrontation with Israel seems inevitable at this point. Hezbollah is also standing by in Lebanon with nearly 150,000 rockets pointed at the Jewish state.

Unsurprisingly, Syria was just the beginning. Iranian proxies continue to exert pressure throughout the broader Middle East, further destabilizing the region. Tehran is backing the Houthi rebels in Yemen worsening an ongoing civil war and horrifying humanitarian catastrophe. Iranian militants have also intensified clashes with Bahrain’s security forces. The overall situation remains grim.

With Obama missteps, it’s fair to ask what Trump has done to institute a course correction. To start, the president pulled the United States out of the Iranian nuclear deal and slapped sanctions back on Tehran. “We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanctions,” Trump stated during his announcement.

Trump has a strong track record of empowering our allies to take aggressive action against common threats. Israel and America’s Gulf State partners have been repeatedly reassured that they have every right to defend themselves and the United States stands by at the ready.

Because of this, Israel has begun an aggressive bombing campaign in Syria targeting Iranian and Hezbollah positions. What’s more, Trump reassured King Salman that any assault on Saudi Arabia would be considered an attack on the United States after a Houthi missile, supplied by Iran, nearly hit the royal palace.

National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo further solidify the administration’s stance restoring responsible American leadership in the region. Tehran needs no introduction to neither Bolton or Pompeo who have been some of the harshest critics of the regime’s actions and frequent human rights abuses.

These are just a few of the steps that the current administration has taken to address the shortcomings of President Obama. Despite these reassuring measures, Trump can only do so much at this point. Obama’s horrible deal ceded significant power to Iran. When we hear that Trump is at fault, let's remember it was Obama who caused this mess. Blaming Trump for destroying American credibility with America’s allies is disingenuous and dishonest.

-- Alex Titus, Policy Advisor for America First Policies

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