Salman Rushdie has once again been reduced to a symbol in the West’s sometimes ineffective efforts to defend freedom against Islamist terrorism. The Indian-born author was a highly respected figure in the world of letters prior to the publication of his 1988 book The Satanic Verses. But after then-Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa (“religious edict”) calling for his death because the book included what Islamists considered to be a heretical view of the Prophet Mohammed, Rushdie became merely the man in the cross-hairs of Islamic threats.
The bounty placed on his head by the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism forced Rushdie into hiding. He survived at least two previous assassination attempts. Still, he has spent the last 33 years living with a price on his head just waiting to be collected by some fundamentalist Muslim riled up by the Iranians. This past week, one such person—Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man—sought to collect with a vicious stabbing attack on the 75-year-old that left him in critical condition and facing the possibility of losing sight in one of his eyes.
This incident has rightly reminded some Americans of the nature of the Iranian regime. Some Senate Republicans as well as others called on President Joe Biden to suspend talks with Tehran over a new nuclear deal to replace the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by the Obama administration in 2015 and from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018.
These statements are falling on deaf ears in the White House. Biden’s statement on the attack carefully avoided any mention of the words, Iran, fatwa or even terrorism. Much like when liberals mock conservatives “thoughts and prayers” in response to mass shootings, Joe and Jill Biden’s prayers for Rushdie’s health fall short of an appropriate comment about this crime.
The United States has been at pains to downplay the destructive role that Iran plays in world affairs. This has helped to contribute to a general complacence about Iranian terror that is astonishing when set in the context of the 43 years of the existence of the Islamist regime.
Outrage about the attack on the author and the efforts of Islamists to silence other critics of their belief system, which many progressives who ought to know better now falsely label as “Islamophobia,” is entirely justified. But Iran’s role inspiring and subsidizing terrorism was long established before this latest incident.
Even if we were to limit ourselves to recent events and ignore, for example, the 1994 murder of 85 Argentinian Jews at the bombing of a Buenos Aires community center, or the slaughter of dissidents in the country’s cities in 2009 and at other times of unrest, there are plenty of examples of the horror that Iran is fomenting.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was behind a plot to assassinate former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Iranian operatives also sought to kidnap a critic of the regime living in exile in Brooklyn, N.Y., and threats against her continue.
On top of that, Iran is the paymaster of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the terror group that shot more than 1,000 rockets last week from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli population centers. Hezbollah, the terror group that largely governs Lebanon, also takes its orders from Tehran. The same is true of the Houthi terrorists in Yemen.
But the administration continues to pursue a deal with Iran and reports are circulating from Vienna that a new agreement may be imminent.
This is being represented by both the White House and the new version of the Obama-era “media echo chamber” in the mainstream corporate media as necessary because of former President Donald Trump’s alleged blunder in withdrawing from Obama’s pact. They say that Trump allowed the Iranians to get closer to a weapon without having a “Plan B” in reserve to deal with the impact of his withdrawal from the JCPOA.
This is entirely disingenuous. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign didn’t guarantee a good outcome, but it might have forced Iran to negotiate a deal that would have actually prevented them from ever getting a weapon. Obama’s deal guaranteed they would have one since it expired by the end of the decade. It also didn’t interfere with their terrorist activity. But prominent Democrats like former Secretary of State John Kerry advised Tehran to stonewall Trump while waiting for the Democrats to win the 2020 election when a new administration might help them.
The Iranians took Kerry’s advice. Just as they thought, after he won, Biden didn’t use the advantage Trump’s tough sanctions had given him and instead sent his representatives to Vienna, cap in hand, to beg the Iranians to sign a new deal. It would, like Obama’s agreement, enrich and empower them while also ensuring they would have a weapon within a few years with Western acquiescence and again not do a thing to stop their terrorism. Instead of using all the resources at his disposal to stop rather than to appease Iran, Biden is not prepared to do anything about this problem other than to continue with the sham of another JCPOA.
Even if we were to leave aside the existential nuclear threat implicit in such a decision, Biden’s offer to lift all sanctions on Iran is to effectively promise to help pay for even more terrorism. Even The New York Times was reporting in 2019 that Trump’s sanctions were causing Iran to cut back on its terror budget.
More thoughts and prayers for Rushdie—or those Israelis and others who are faced with the prospect of not only living under the threat of an Iranian nuke but also with its terrorist auxiliaries who will be flush with funds should Biden lift the sanctions—isn’t the answer.
Instead, this would be a moment when, as was the case in 2015 when Obama’s deal was under consideration, those in Congress who claim they care about the Iranian threat, as well as Israel, will have a chance to prove it.
What happened in 2015 was that Senate Republicans, who controlled Congress at the time, allowed themselves to be rolled by Obama and Kerry. They presented the JCPOA as merely an agreement rather than as a treaty that would have required a two-thirds Senate majority to be ratified. Given that the majority of Americans and members of Congress said they opposed the pact, Obama knew it couldn’t pass as a treaty. So instead, he got the GOP majority to agree to a bill that would have given them the right to vote on it but would have required a veto-proof two-thirds majority plus one in order to stop it—the opposite of what the Constitution intended for such a process.
Until at least next January, Biden has the advantage of a razor-thin Democratic Senate majority. Even if they lose that in November, they can still get their deal if Congress plays by the 2015 rules since Biden will never admit that he’s sneaking a dangerous treaty in by the back door as Obama did. Yet if the GOP were to stop playing by those rules and simply say, as even a Senate minority could, that it would not allow any funding for the U.S. State Department or confirm a single diplomatic appointment until it was presented as a treaty, there would be no JCPOA II.
Unfortunately, the GOP Senate caucus is still led by Minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, who passed on confronting Obama on Iran. And Democrats are just as prepared to fall in line behind whatever the White House wants as they were in 2015. They are either buying Biden’s false talking points or distracted by the war in Ukraine and other issues. If Biden gets a new deal, Senators on both sides of the aisle may well again decide that the stakes aren’t sufficiently high to justify the political risks involved in going all out to stop it.
This, as well as Biden’s utter cluelessness about the dangers of his policy, will be a tragic mistake that should be remembered in the future when Iran continues its crime spree with more Western cash in its pockets.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.