Despite the fact that Iran remains the greatest avowed enemy of the United States and one of the most corrupt regimes in the world, a group of 36 “progressive” U.S. legislators has urged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ease sanctions on Tehran as a “humanitarian” gesture in the face of the Islamic Republic’s disastrous response to the coronavirus.
These elected officials, whose effort to increase funding to Iran’s dictatorial ayatollahs is enthusiastically backed by 2020 Democractic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, ignore the fact that current U.S. sanctions do not in any way restrict shipments of humanitarian goods, such as medicine and medical equipment, to Iran.
A wiser approach to Iran at this point would be to ratchet up sanctions and military response to Iran’s continued belligerence and disregard of its increasingly disgruntled population.
Before discussing Iran’s egregious mistakes and duplicity with regard to its outbreak of coronavirus, it’s useful to understand why U.S. sanctions were put in place and why they remain commendable.
Iran is the greatest enemy of the United States. Iran makes no secret of its hate for the United States, frequently condemning and threatening it with military harm, and labeling America the Great Satan. To make its position clear, the Islamic Republic has attacked and harassed U.S. naval vessels numerous times, and just last year shot down a U.S. drone over international waters. What’s more, Iran recently attacked a major oil processing facility of our ally, Saudi Arabia.
Iran cheats on the nuclear deal and is still developing weapons of mass destruction. Iran lied to Western negotiators while the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal was being crafted, and violating parts of it upon its finalization. Iran has consistently barred the International Atomic Energy Commission from inspecting its nuclear facilities as required by the JCPOA, and Iranian leaders brag often about how close they are “breaking out” to create nuclear weapons. In addition, Iran has for years violated U.N. resolutions restricting development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and in 2017 became only the sixth country to possess them.
Iran supports global terrorism, and its proxies kill Americans. Iran consistently works against U.S. interests Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf generally. Iraqi Shi’ite militias, sponsored and directed by Iran, recently killed two U.S. service members and a British soldier in Iraq. Perhaps most importantly, Iran has countless times threatened to destroy Israel (which it calls the Little Satan) and works to amass armaments on Israel’s northern border with Syria.
Iran’s human rights record is among the worst in the world. It oppresses women, it persecutes (and kills) homosexuals, it imprisons political dissenters without due process, and last fall executed some 1,500 protesters who demonstrated peacefully against the ayatollahs’ mismanagement of the economy. Just last week we learned that Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, died in Iranian captivity, denied a public trial for 13 years.
On top of Iran’s status as one of the world’s most aggressive and murderous actors on the global stage, its handling of the coronavirus was as dangerous as it was disingenuous.
Iran lied about coronavirus and became a vector for its spread in the Middle East. Iran withheld critical information about the outbreak of the coronavirus within its borders, and imprisoned whistleblowers. It allowed daily commercial flights in and out of China (and then to and from Lebanon) even as the disease raced through those countries. Only the deaths of many Iranian leaders forced the government to admit the crisis and belatedly take steps to halt it. As a consequence, some 16 Middle East nations claim their own outbreaks began in Iran. Even a group of Iranian academics a few days ago bravely issued a letter blaming the Iranian coronavirus disaster on the incompetence of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Finally, 21 Nobel laureates warned the United Nations that Iran’s paranoid secrecy has created a health catastrophe.
Iran lies about the source of coronavirus, blaming it on the United States. The Islamic Republic is actually telling its own people (and a skeptical world) that the United States created the coronavirus. One Iranian cartoonist, supported by Iran’s Health Ministry, has launched a contest to promote U.S. responsibility for the plague, for which cartoonists from 68 countries have already submitted works.
Notwithstanding the many justifications for restraining Iran’s ambitions through tough sanctions, the United States has never imposed restrictions on Iran’s ability to acquire medical supplies. Current sanctions specifically exclude limitations on humanitarian imports. In short, Iran is as free as any country to purchase pharmaceuticals and medical equipment on the open market.
Unfortunately for the Iranian people, the dictators in Iran have other uses for their money. Ayatollah Khamenei is reported to have amassed a stash of $200 billion in assets that are under his personal control. The U.S. State Department last week reported that in July 2019, “one billion euros [from European nations] intended for medical supplies ‘disappeared’ and another $170 million allocated for medical goods were instead spent on tobacco.” Despite current sanctions, Iran continues to spend its scarce funds supporting colonial projects in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as supporting terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
We can only ask: If Iran faces no diplomatic or commercial obstacles to purchasing humanitarian supplies of drugs and medical equipment; if Iran has sufficient discretionary money to support jihadi militias in the Middle East; if Iran has a track record of lying about its coronavirus crisis; and if Iran just last year corruptly misspent a billion dollars of humanitarian medical aid—why on earth do leftist American and European politicians want to reduce sanctions and put more money in the hands of our No. 1 global enemy?
In fact, if we are to judge Iran by what it says about harming the United States and Israel, by how Iran cheats on international arms resolutions, and by the imperialist actions Iran takes all over the Middle East, the world community—and certainly, the United States—would be smarter to tighten sanctions on the ayatollahs, not loosen them.
The Iranian people are suffering politically, as well as medically, due to the deliberate actions of their dictatorial rulers. What’s more, the people of Iran themselves surely realize that their problems begin and end with their jihad-obsessed government, not U.S.-imposed sanctions.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.