The Trump administration, for once in harmony with Congress, is going to slap more sanctions on Iran. They stress this has nothing to do with the nuclear deal, but is rather in response to Tehran’s ongoing support of terrorism from the Middle East to Latin America. At the same time, the government is not (yet?) ready to sanction the Iranians for violating the terms of the deal.
The White House is still designing its overall Iran strategy, including the question of the nuclear deal. And, according to Adam Kredo, the hints all point in the direction of ultimately accusing the Iranians of violating it.
The White House must make a decision by Tuesday on whether it will recertify that Iran is in compliance with the deal. The administration is likely to again certify Iran as in compliance of the agreement, despite mounting evidence this not the case. Deliberations in the White House had not concluded as of late Monday morning, but officials signaled they were leaning towards certifying Iran as not in technical violation.
U.S. officials were hesitant to deem Iran in direct violation of the deal, but said Tehran “is in default on the spirit of that agreements,” according to senior administration officials who spoke on background.
In the event, the government finessed the “deal” and instead said Iran was not in violation of its agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency(a generous reading). There was no “certification” even though you’ll have no trouble finding news stories that claim there was.
Bottom line: they’re stalling. We’re told that the official “review” will be finished in a month or two, and we’re also told that the president wants a tough policy. We shall see. So far, despite his image as a tough guy, Mr. Trump hasn’t been all that forceful when it comes to dealing with the Islamic Republic. Yes, there are sanctions aplenty, but economic pressure isn’t going to change the Tehran regime or its aggressive policies, and the “certification” policy will encourage the Iranians to believe that Trump is not going to threaten their rule.
Some in Congress have a really smart idea: instead of separate actions against the global enemy alliance, merge them into a single policy. This has the great benefit of moving us toward a global approach to what is, after all, a global war. So when they say, “let’s make North Korea part of our Russia-and-Iran sanctions,” they have the correct instinct. If only Tillerson, Mattis and McMaster were saying such things. I’m not swayed by the claim that the new sanctions bill would effectively tie the president’s hands if he wanted to ease sanctions on Russia. Somehow presidents get their way in such matters. I’m more worried about finding a way to raise the strategic question—how to win the big war. I’m also worried that our foreign policy team may be excessively military, and insufficiently political/ideological to defeat the enemy alliance.
Which, inevitably, takes us to personnel. I’m a Marine dad, so Jim Mattis occupies a special place in the Ledeen family heart. But Mattis’ top assistants are politically well to the left, and I rather suspect that they weren’t great fans of Trump’s Warsaw speech, the one that spoke to our will to defend and advance Western civilization. So I worry: Does Mattis appreciate the power of American values? Or does he look at conflict in fairly narrow military terms?
The same goes for McMaster, who is said to have deleted the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” from Trump’s Warsaw speech, only to have the president put it back. McMaster is a friend and follower of David Petraeus, who is not the right guru for the current war. We don’t need new surges so much as new revolutions. The Iranian people are waiting for our embrace, as are the Venezuelans. They’re not getting it. Sooner or later, I think they will. I think it’s inescapable, and I think Trump will work that out.
But it had better be sooner, because I also think our enemies think they’re in the driver’s seat right now, and doubt it will last. To quote a deep strategic thinker, Faster Please!
Michael Ledeen is a Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @michaelledeen.
Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.