It is hard to exaggerate the strategic disaster that has befallen American relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
At a time of increasing acts of terror – unfortunately now “lone wolf” murders that have no central command – the Obama Administration in a series of encounters has emboldened one wing of Islamic terrorism. It may be ironic but hardly laudatory that the U.S. and its allies are now more dependent for their ultimate defense on the conflict between the two wings of Islam, Sunni and Shia, and their terrorist offspring.
The Obama Administration early on lost its strategic bearings in dealing with a fanatical regime in Tehran aiming to become the hegemonic power in the Mideast. That defeat is at every level – strategic and military, economically, and in propaganda. It is true, of course, that much of the difficulties of dealing with the mullahs predates Obama’s seven years in the White House. One might even, at the risk of offending those who quite rightly worship at the shrine of Ronald Reagan, recall his failure to cope with Tehran. It was, after all, Reagan who did not retaliate after calling the suicide bombings which killed 299 American and French Marines in October 1983 in Beirut a “despicable act”. There was circumstantial evidence of Iranian complicity. Contradictorily, Reagan withdrew from the Lebanese peacekeeping force.
When a grass roots movement against the mullahs took to the streets following the stolen president elections of 2009 calling for American assistance, the Obama Administration turned its back on them. For all the talk about moderates and radicals in the Tehran regime, there is little hope that its leaders would modify their regional aggression and worldwide terrorist activity so long as it is successful in increasing Iranian influence. That is very much the case now with full-fledged allies on the Mediterranean: Hezbollah in Lebanon, the reeling but still functioning al Assad regime in Syria, and even the Sunni Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
Instead, Obama has sought to make some sort of pact with the mullahs, apparently believing American concessions would satisfy their hunger for international aggrandizement. It is only likely to feed it. The lengthy negotiations to limit Iran’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction have turned into a farce. When Tehran objected to inspection of their military installations as part of the enforcement arrangements, the issue was simply dropped by Washington. At the very moment the success of the agreement was being heralded in Washington, Iran launched tests of new intercontinental ballistics missiles in defiance of UN Resolutions which could one day strike the U.S..
It may be a long time before we know why a group of American sailors were captured and then publicly humiliated by Tehran to prove U.S. impotence in the region. We may not know soon whether it was indeed a navigation accident and engine problems which called for a quick and nonconfrontational return, or perhaps even more threatening, Iranian technical capacity to interfere with the ship’s GPS. But the spectacle will highlight the reputation of the U.S. in the region for a very long time, and undermine any American strategy. Again, as in the swaps with the Taliban, Washington has given back a disproportionate number of proven terrorists – including some involved in bombings against Jewish installations in Argentina, and at the very moment a new administration in Buenos Aires has again promised to take up investigations of the incidents. It seems not only possible but likely, that like the released Guantánamo prisoners, most soon will be back at their trade.
The removal of sanctions and return of blocked funds probably exceeding $150 billion will be significant in helping the mullahs through their current economic crisis brought on by heavy military expenditures – including maintaining Iran Revolutionary Guard forces in Syria. Renewed oil and gas sales in the price-gutted world market will help only marginally. But there is little hope for regime change without substantial assistance from abroad. That, obviously, will not come from this American administration, leading from behind to enhance rather than diminish the major threat to peace and stability posed by the Tehran fanatics.