By Amir Basiri, Forbes
Saturday, 22 April 2017
Why give Trump the keys to Iran? That’s the title of the latest installment in a series of articles published by Iran’s U.S. lobby and apologists in the past months, warning that the 45th U.S. President is dragging the country into another war in the Middle East.
This latest wave of panic mongering follows the Trump administration’s decision to slap new sanctions against Tehran and put it on notice for its illicit missile tests, and an increased interest in both Congress and the White House to designate Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.
Proponents of rapprochement with Iran assume that a tougher stance against Tehran will put the U.S. at loggerheads with the country's ruling mullahs and eventually lead to military confrontation, the last thing that the U.S. public wants.
Naturally, to prevent war, they propose the U.S. must continue on the path of the previous administration and appease the Iranian regime with concessions to avoid arousing its ire.
But how well-founded are these fears? The facts prove that it is rapprochement with Iran that has driven the Middle East deeper into conflagration and chaos, and if anything, only a tough stance can bring us back from the brink of open warfare with the leading state sponsor of terrorism.
The Appeasement Fallacy
The appeasement camp argues that if the U.S. adopts a firm policy toward the Iranian regime, the latter will react by walking away from the nuclear deal forged between Tehran and world powers in 2015. They also warn that Iran will retaliate by discontinuing its support for the fight against ISIS and by using its proxy forces in the region to target U.S. interests and troops in Iraq and Syria.
First of all, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear pact is known, is a flawed deal, if there ever was one. In a nutshell, it relieved Iran of crippling sanctions, legitimized its uranium enrichment program, and gave the IRGC billions of dollars to spend on arms deals and terrorist agendas. The deal also threatens to further destabilize the Middle East by triggering a nuclear arms race in the region.
No wonder President Trump has called the JCPOA it a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated” that could lead to a “nuclear holocaust.” And policing it to prevent Iran from exploiting its many holes is the least the new administration should do.
Expect Iran to continue testing the limits of the deal. But despite the rhetoric heared from Iranian officials, the possibility that Tehran will double back on the deal is very minimal, given all the benefits it has obtained from it.
Second, if Iran-backed militias are posing a threat to U.S. troops in the Middle East today, it is in no small part due to Obama's decision to give Tehran leeway in its regional ambitions for the sake of keeping the mullahs at the nuclear negotiation table. Absent an international response, Iran destabilized the region by increasing its meddling in Syria and Iraq, allowing ISIS to emerge and occupy a large swath of land straddling both countries. Subsequently, Iran took advantage of the war against ISIS and Obama's hands-off policy in the Middle East to strengthen its proxy militias in both countries.
Therefore, to think that Iran can be an ally in the fight against ISIS is wishful thinking at best. And to believe that Iran will align its regional interests with those of the U.S. is a recipe for disaster.
Undoing Iran's violent meddling in the Middle East is a key component to eradicating terrorism, extremism and Islamic fundamentalism. This is an issue that the international community will have to deal with sooner or later—better sooner than later.
The Case For A Firm Policy Against Iran
If history is any indication, the Iranian regime will only keep its nefarious deeds in check if it understands that not doing so will cost it dearly. Case in point: Iran froze its nuclear program in 2003 when it felt the imminent threat of international action. Again, it was crippling sanctions and not a change of heart that brought the mullahs back to the negotiation table in 2013 to resolve the crisis surrounding their nuclear program.
Since President Trump has shown he is inclined to adopt an approach toward Iran that is different from his predecessor, the mullahs have quietly backed off on their provocative actions. This include the cancellation of a missile launch and a halt to public threats against U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf.
This proves that a tough stance can roll back Iran's destructive agenda in the region and force it to fall back in line. Critics and experts believe there are practical measures that can achieve this goal.
According to Michael Singh of the Washington Institute, "[T]he United States should adopt a strategy of deterrence toward Iran—erecting daunting defenses that dissuade the Islamic Republic from challenging the interests of the United States and its allies, and imposing sharp costs should Iran do so nonetheless."
In a recently published paper, Singh explains that instead of providing Iran with more concessions, the U.S. strategy should address the flaws of the JCPOA, push back against Iran's efforts in the region and counter its proxy networks, and help the U.S.'s regional allies in the region deal with the threats Iran poses.
Another key step toward bringing peace and order to Iran and the region would be to designate the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization.
In a Foreign Affairs polemic, Mark Dubowitz, an Iran expert from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Ray Takeyh, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, say the Trump administration can’t stabilize the Middle East without weakening the IRGC, which they describe as “Tehran’s instrument of domestic repression and overseas terror.” By labeling it as a terrorist organization, Dubowitz and Takeyh explain, the U.S. will target the entity’s financial empire and heighten the risks for European and Asian corporations looking to do business worth billions of dollars in sectors controlled by the guards.
"The people of Iran would welcome the designation of the IRGC, which is responsible for thousands of political executions and tortures in prison," Maryam Rajavi, president of the the opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said in a recent interview with Fox News. "It is also responsible for training terrorists supporting and engaging in terrorist activities outside Iran."
"I believe the time has come for a firm policy on Iran. The failed policy of appeasement has hurt the Iranian people, as well as global peace and security," Rajavi said.
If there's a lesson to learn from four decades of dealing with the mullahs, a tough stance toward Iran will prevent war, while further concessions will make it inevitable.
Mr. Basiri is an Iranian human rights activist. Follow him at @Amir_bas.