By David Harsanyi
For years, the liberal foreign policy establishment presented Americans with a false choice on Iran: surrender or war. President Trump has proved that binary to be a fantasy, squeezing and deterring the Iranians without full-on confrontation.
“When I became president, Iran was a true state of terror,” Trump said in France this week. Now, “they are failing as a nation.”
Not that his critics give him credit — or room to maneuver. As The Daily Beast reported last week, alumni of the Obama administration have been secretly in touch with the Iranians — no doubt to reassure the mullahs that if they wait out Trump, their fortunes will turn.
Though it’s unprecedented to see former administration officials actively undermining official US policy abroad, the more the Obama alumni echo chamber’s Iranian apologists clamor to save the Islamic regime from economic ruin, the more we understand that the Trump administration’s strategy is working.
Iranian officials were, no doubt, thrilled to hear from their old friends. During the Obama administration’s capitulation, Iran was not only free to advance its nuclear ambitions and ballistic weapons capabilities, it could spread theocratic terror and conflict to virtually every troubled spot in the Middle East.
The government of Iran, which regularly holds American citizens hostage, was, according to officials in the past two administrations, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US servicemen in Iraq.
In Syria, the Iranians back a regime that regularly gasses its own people. In Yemen — though you wouldn’t know it from mainstream news coverage — Iran precipitates conflict with Saudi Arabia by backing the radical Houthi rebels. In Lebanon, Iran’s proxy army of Hezbollah threatens our ally Israel. And in Gaza, Iran helps fund the terrorists of Hamas.
Now, just imagine how all these conflicts could look like when paranoid religious demagogues like Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had the capacity to threaten nuclear war. With no real oversight over military installations and programs, the Iran deal ensured this future.
Ever since the Trump administration pulled the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, however, Iran’s reliance on its resources, its access to the world’s financial markets and its political legitimacy have been severely damaged.
We can’t predict with any real certitude what will happen in foreign affairs, but, as of now, the Trump administration has hampered Iran’s ability to stoke conflict in the region and created domestic pressure that may put checks on its militaristic ambitions.
The re-imposition of sanctions has cut Iran’s oil exports at least in half, which pushed the nation into an economic downturn. According to the International Monetary Fund, inflation has spiked more than 30% over the past year.
The unemployment rate, especially among the young and urban workers, has skyrocketed. The government is reportedly planning for cuts in military spending.
A number of major European companies have also been compelled to live by US sanctions. Who would you choose: the largest economy on Earth or a creaky militaristic terror state?
The frustration over the efficacy of Trump’s policy is probably what led to the recent attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and other vessels near the Strait of Hormuz.
President Trump responded with a show of force and a warning that Iran would suffer greatly in any military conflict. This set off a panic among pundits about the prospects of war. The fact is that the way to maintain credible deterrence is to rely on force as an option. Without it, Iran would be free to instigate our allies, and conflict would be more likely.
Then there is the moral question.
Regime change can only come from within. Americans, for good reason, have no appetite to aid in democracy-building. Yet, Iran, unlike many countries in the region, is not a contrived entity, but a nation with an organic and robust national identity. A peaceful Iran would benefit the world greatly.
Which is why the Obama administration did worse than merely ignore protestors fighting for liberty in Iran; it strengthened the autocrats. A change in policy sends a signal to the Iranian people that the United States is no longer supine to their repressive rulers.
So while Iranian propagandists like Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are running around blaming the United States for Iran’s problems, the solution has never been clearer.
The Trump administration has laid out 12 demands on Iran, including ending its nuclear and advanced ballistic missile programs, ceasing terrorism, stopping its destabilization of the region and releasing political hostages.
Or in other words, all Iran has to do is act like any other normal nation.