Days away from the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry boasted about the success of the Obama administration's signature foreign policy achievement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on putatively "preventing" Iran's nuclear capability. "In reaching and implementing this deal," Kerry said, "we took a major security threat off the table without firing a single shot."
On the contrary, anyone who examines the JCPOA closely and honestly will come to the conclusion that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the mullahs got just about everything they wanted, while the U.S. got a dubious promise of good behavior that expires after 10 years.
Anyone who closely and honestly examines the JCPOA "nuclear deal" with Iran will conclude that the Islamic Republic got just about everything they wanted, while the U.S. got a dubious promise of good behavior that expires after 10 years. Pictured: Then Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Geneva on January 14, 2015 for negotiations. (Image source: U.S. Mission Geneva/Flickr)
It has long been known that what Michael Doran called "Obama's Secret Iran Strategy" required the administration to exaggerate the "spirit of reform" in Iran and to keep details about the agreement secret from both Congress and the American public. Recently, however, two seemingly unrelated events demonstrated just how duplicitous the Obama administration was with the American public over its dealings with the Islamic Republic.
The first event occurred on October 31, at the "World Without Terrorism" convention held in Iran. At a press conference, Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reminded the world that Iran's ballistic missiles, though limited to a range of 2,000 km, are still sufficient to target U.S. bases in the region, saying:
"Even though we have the capability to increase this range, in the meantime this range is enough for us, because the Americans are sufficiently situated within a 2,000 km radius around Iran. We will respond to them if they attack us."
One could argue quite sensibly that Iran should never have been permitted to retain any offensive missile program. However, that's not what happened. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), in the early stages of negotiations, prior to the "Interim Agreement" of December 10, 2013, the U.S. team acquiesced to Iranian demands that missiles be excluded from the JCPOA. Then, in either a "secret," undisclosed part of the JCPOA or in an unwritten agreement, Iran agreed to a 2,000 km range limit on its ballistic missiles.
MEMRI reads Jafari's statement as serving both "a message of reassurance for Europe, which is beyond the 2,000 km range" while simultaneously signaling a threat to Israel, which is well within the range.
The second event shedding a ghastly light on Obama's rapprochement with Iran came just hours after Jafari's statement, on November 1, when the CIA declassified and released more of what the U.S. Navy SEALs took from Osama bin Laden's dingy lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan after they killed him on May 2, 2011. Among the 470,000 documents was a 19-page file written by one of bin Laden's lieutenants demonstrating the considerable cooperation between Iran and Al-Qaeda.
According to NBC News, two U.S. intelligence officials described the document as "evidence of Iran's support of al Qaeda's war with the United States."
This support included "money and arms," and it confirms the cozy relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda hinted at by the 9/11 Commission Report. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said the document shows that "There have been relationships, there are connections. There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside Al-Qaeda."
Those who recall that Al-Qaeda and Iranian proxy Hezbollah cooperated in the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia will not be surprised to learn that Iran provided Al-Qaeda "training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf," according to the 19-page file.
Of course, these files were not news to the Obama administration. Michael Rubin points out that "Obama and his CIA heads Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, John Brennan, and acting head Mike Morell released only what upheld and affirmed Obama's tenuous theories about Iran." While President Obama was busy concocting the fiction that "moderates" in the Iranian regime were worthy of our trust, he knew full well that he was offering concessions to co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks.
A former CIA official chosen by Obama to be spokesman to the National Security Council, Ned Price, revealed even more than Pompeo did when he admitted that the newly-released documents "don't tell us anything we didn't already know." This is exactly the point: the Obama administration had evidence that Iran facilitated Al-Qaeda in numerous ways, but Congress and the American people were in the dark.
Weeks before the Obama State Department pushed through JCPOA, it seemed reasonable to compare the deal to a money-laundering operation enabling Iran to legitimize its illicit nuclear program simply by waiting 10 years for the agreement to expire -- after which there are no longer any constraints on its nuclear program. It is surely, as critics have pointed out, the most one-sided diplomatic agreement the U.S. has ever entered.
Obama gets to boast about his deal, but the people of the U.S. got almost nothing. The deal was front-loaded so that billions of dollars were given to the Iranian regime, including a $400 million ransom payment for four Americans held in Iran. Removal of strict sanctions brought in an estimated $700 million per month. Everyone knows that Iran will spend the money in ways contrary to American interests. Even John Kerry acknowledged that much of it would go towards supporting Iran's terrorist proxies.
The European nations got the illusion of safety behind the 2,000 km limit on Iran's missiles, but that safety-zone is only as good as the regime's promise. The end of the sanctions also gave European companies the opportunity for extensive new business deals with Iran. European industrial firms that manufacture inconel steel and other dual-use components necessary for assembling a nuclear weapon are undoubtedly happy. With the "strict" sanctions removed, European companies will be able to sell Iran the material and knowledge it needs without the subterfuge Saddam Hussein had required for Iraq's illicit nuclear weapons development.
Perhaps the biggest loser is Israel. It watched the maneuverings of the United States, its closest ally, make its most capable foe even more dangerous.
Upon leaving office, Obama had given away all the leverage the U.S. assembled since the Ayatollah Khomeini's "students" stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. The kindest interpretation of these events is that his judgment was blinded by his zeal to reach a grand bargain with Tehran. The result is an emboldened Iran, with the "right to enrich" uranium.
A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.