Seven years ago this month, then-Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that the $150 billion in sanctions relief the Obama administration was providing to Iran’s rulers would—to a greater or lesser extent—fund terrorism.
“I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC [Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists,” he said in an interview with CNBC.
He added: “We are confident that this will not result in an increase somehow in the threat to any partner or any friend in the region.”
His confidence, we now know, was misplaced.
The dollars the United States put into the pockets of Iran’s rulers has been spent to supply weapons to Hamas, Hezbollah, Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Syria and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Outside the region, Iran’s rulers are providing armed drones to Vladimir Putin, which he’s using to slaughter Ukrainians. Inside Iran, the regime has increased its persecution of dissidents—not least women.
Obama enriched Iran’s rulers to induce them to agree to his 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which he claimed would stop them from developing nuclear weapons.
In fact, at best, the JCPOA might have slightly slowed their progress toward that goal while they worked on missiles capable of delivering nukes anywhere in the world and, as noted above, funded their proxies.
President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA and brought economic pressure to bear on Tehran for a couple of years. That did not cause Iran’s rulers to abandon their nuclear aspirations, but it did limit the support they could provide terrorist friends and family.
President Biden resumed sanctions relief. He’s added another $50 billion—a lowball estimate—to Tehran’s coffers so far. His initial aim was to conclude a deal that was “longer and stronger” than the JCPOA, but it soon became obvious that he was willing to settle for one that was shorter and weaker.
Iran’s rulers have shown no interest. Instead, they have expressed their hatred toward America many times in many ways.
Tehran is not the only adversary of America that Americans have been empowering.
In November, Xi Jinping, the mightiest ruler of the People’s Republic of China since Mao Zedong, visited San Francisco, where he dined with business executives who paid $2,000 per plate for the privilege and gave him a standing ovation.
He told them what they wanted to hear: “We are in an era of challenges and changes. It is also an era of hope. The world needs China and the United States to work together for a better future.”
To his comrades at home, Xi has delivered a different message: The PRC’s “struggle and contest with Western countries is irreconcilable, so it will inevitably be long, complicated, and sometimes even very sharp.”
Matthew Pottinger, former Deputy National Security Advisor and currently chairman of the China Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), has been researching the multiple ways Americans have been helping Xi in this very sharp struggle and contest.
“U.S. companies and investment funds have helped to underwrite and modernize China’s military and intelligence apparatus. Americans usually don’t invest with the intent to hurt the U.S., but that is what is happening here regardless,” he continued.
He added: “U.S. companies, financial institutions, and investment funds have—sometimes inadvertently, sometimes carelessly—helped underwrite and expedite the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army and China’s high-tech surveillance police state.”
Insufficiently appreciated, both on Wall Street and in Washington, is the fact that under Chinese law and the “military-civil fusion” policy of the Chinese Communist Party, no Chinese company is private or independent.
And even Chinese companies with transparent military ties have “forged partnerships with U.S. universities, effectively transforming these bastions of learning into outposts of the Chinese government’s technological ambitions,” said Pottinger.
“Left unregulated, such partnerships will contribute to the PLA’s modernization in ways we won’t fully understand until those capabilities are used against Americans at home and on distant battlefields,” he predicted.
Americans are assisting Beijing in the war of ideas, too. One obvious example: Investors in ByteDance, parent company of the social media platform TikTok—which propagates CCP messages and memes to tens of millions of Americans—include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Susquehanna International Group.
As Pottinger told Congress: “Publicly available Chinese government documents also directly link ByteDance to the Chinese government’s surveillance state, including at least five Chinese surveillance companies…implicated by the U.S. government in the CCP’s severe repression of the ethnic Uyghur people.”
The U.S. Treasury Department does have a blacklist meant to limit the flow of American capital to the Chinese military-industrial complex. But, Pottinger reported, “this tool has barely been used since it was created more than three years ago.”
He ended his testimony with five recommendations to stem the flow of U.S. investment and American technological innovations that Beijing will utilize to enhance the military and intelligence capabilities it deploys in its “struggle and contest with Western countries.”
It would be helpful for Congress to adopt them. More broadly, I’d suggest pondering a quote attributed to V. I. Lenin: “When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope.”
Were that Communist revolutionary alive—he died 100 years ago this month—he might add with satisfaction that today’s capitalists are going further than he anticipated: They are investing in and transferring rope-making technology to their adversaries.