The Iran enrichment syndrome

How Obama’s lies about breaking sanctions helped Iran prepare for a bomb . . . and why Trump must not make the same mistake

Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

The next phase of the effort to stop the Trump administration from preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon has already begun.

As The New York Times reported today, the senior leaders of the European Union have formally asked the U.S. Treasury and State Departments to grant exemptions to European companies and allow key sectors of their economies, including energy and aviation, to maintain their financial connections to the United States while also doing business with Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau delivering a speech from the Israeli Defense Ministry regarding evidence of Iran’s nuclear program and violation of the 2015 nuclear deal. Credit: Screenshot.

The letter confirms that the Europeans understand that U.S. President Donald Trump and his foreign-policy team mean what they say about re-imposing crippling sanctions on Iran in order to force it to renegotiate the nuclear deal the Obama administration concluded with it. What’s more, the plea is also a recognition that this time America means what it says about getting tough on Tehran.

That’s of particular interest today because of a report just published by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations revealed that the Obama administration evaded key sanctions it was claiming to enforce in order to allow Iran access to billions in hard currency.

As the Washington Free Beacon reported, this investigation showed that Obama administration officials went beyond the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to help the regime get billions in hard currency and access to the U.S. financial system to which it wasn’t entitled. The special licenses granted to two banks allowed Iran the cash it needed to fund its ballistic-missile program, terrorist groups like Hezbollah and its own forces operating in Syria.

The money has also apparently helped Iran afford major improvements in its nuclear program. On the same day that the Europeans were begging for sanctions relief and the Senate published its report, Iran announced it had completed a new centrifuge assembly center that would expand its capacity to enrich uranium above and beyond the amounts that it is already allowed to do under the terms of the nuclear deal.

But the icing on the cake is that the Obama administration specifically promised Congress that it would not do any of this.

The honesty of Trump and his administration is called into question on a daily basis—and sometimes for good reason. But while the efforts of the news media to hold Trump accountable for this are necessary, it’s obvious that they failed to do the same for U.S. President Barack Obama on Iran.

The answer to this from Obama’s defenders is to ask “so what?” As far as they are concerned, the details about the Iran deal are old news, and if Obama and his team fibbed about the way they went about securing his signature foreign-policy accomplishment, it was just a matter of breaking eggs to make an omelet.

But it matters for four reasons.

The first is that the more we learn about Obama and Iran, the more the self-righteous lectures about Trump from his media tormentors ring hollow. We are constantly told that the longer Trump is in office, the better Obama looks because of the latter’s willingness to abide by civilized norms and rules of honesty that Trump has no use for.

But the prominent journalists who were so easily manipulated that even Obama Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes called them his “media echo chamber” didn’t just faithfully transmit false information about the deal as their puppet masters desired. They also let Obama get away with the sorts of lies that they would be screaming bloody murder about if Trump were doing the same thing now.

The second point is that these revelations about previous president’s deceptions are exactly why the Europeans are so put out by the Trump team’s determination to roll back the nuclear deal. The Senate report reveals that Obama administration officials encouraged Europeans to join the post-nuclear deal Iran gold rush and assured them they would face no penalties, despite the fact that U.S. sanctions were still in place. Obama’s lies make the re-imposition of sanctions now seem particularly harsh to those who were promised that they would never pay a price for their actions.

The third reason is that Obama’s lies had real-world consequences. His weakness and desire to appease Tehran led directly to Iranian troops being currently stationed in Syria and in a position to wage war on Israel. Without the financial bonus Obama delivered to the ayatollahs, Iran’s expanded illegal missile program and improvements in its nuclear infrastructure would not have been possible.

Trump’s determination to roll back Iran’s gains is not merely a matter of trashing Obama’s legacy, but necessary to defend the security of the West that is threatened by a deal that allowed Iran to grow rich and more powerful while making its ultimate acquisition of a bomb inevitable. Despite being labeled as an isolationist administration, the United States is seeking to defend the same Europeans, who are apparently more interested in profiting from business with the world’s leading state sponsor of terror than in restraining it. The Senate report underscores the need for America to start saying “no” to the Europeans and stick to it.

Lastly, the more we know about the lies Obama told about the nuclear deal, the more it sets a standard for how we should judge Trump’s actions with respect both to Iran and his upcoming negotiations with North Korea.

While dismay at Trump’s shortcomings is understandable, what we have learned should teach us above all that what Americans need from their government is transparency and honesty about security threats. The Iran enrichment syndrome that Obama created must be reversed. His presidential temperament and popularity notwithstanding, the lies he told when it came to Iran not only betrayed the trust the American people placed in him, but also left the world more dangerous than he found it. Trump should be judged not only by his honesty (or lack thereof), but also on whether he can, as he hopes to do, undo the damage his predecessor created.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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