The White House is CLUELESS on Iran

In three weeks, Iranians will go to the polls to choose a new parliament. For President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate and ardent supporter of the now-moribund international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program, the parliamentary vote on Feb. 21 could be the first note in his political swan song. With some 90 percent of Iran’s reform candidates disqualified in a decision issued by the hard-line Guardian Council this week and reformists threatening an election boycott, it seems highly unlikely that Iran’s pro-reform bloc will be able to stitch together much of a showing at the polls. That’s bad news for Iranians, and probably for Americans too.

The tattered state of Iran’s reformers, who are led by Rouhani, underscores the high cost of the Trump administration’s decision to assassinate the top Iranian military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in early January. Any hope that the nuclear deal could be saved from the dumpster fire of Trump’s Iran policy was lost the day a U.S. drone strike took Soleimani out in Iraq. The latest machinations around the upcoming parliamentary elections suggest that before things get better in Iran, they are bound to get much worse. This is a problem Washington will have to face, whether it’s the Trump administration or a new Democratic administration this time next year.

With Soleimani gone and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in poor health and turning 81 in April, conservatives and hard-liners alike are closing ranks in anticipation of a major shakeup of the hierarchy in Tehran. The Guardian Council’s move to cut reformist and moderate candidates out of the competition for parliament’s 290 seats leaves roughly 5,000 revanchist candidates on the rolls, potentially positioning the hard-liners to dominate parliament for the next four years.

After the killing of Soleimani and massive protests in response to the shooting down of a Ukrainian commercial airliner near Tehran, for which the Iranian authorities initially refused to admit responsibility, it is clear that Iran’s reformists have run into a dead-end. They don’t appear to have contemplated a Plan B in the event that their highly risky investment of political capital in the nuclear deal went south. The costs of that miscalculation was also on display this week as Iranian lawmakers called for the ouster of one of the chief negotiators of the nuclear agreement, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, after he suggested in an interview with the German news outlet Der Spiegel that diplomacy with the U.S. may seem remote now while Trump is in office, but talks are not out of the question once Trump leaves the White House.

Nearly three years into his second presidential term, Rouhani is facing the possibility that the next parliament will do everything it can to dismantle the last vestiges of the movement for incremental change he has long championed. In a country where journalists, human rights advocates and activists of any kind are routinely arrested, it’s a stretch to call Rouhani a moderate. Still, other than Zarif, an American-educated diplomat, few Iranian politicians rivaled Rouhani’s credibility when it came to taking bold stances on opening up, even slightly, Iran’s political and economic institutions and promoting the possibility of détente with the United States. While Rouhani has continued to press publicly for Iranians to turn out for the polls, the trend lines on voter participation are pointing downward.

Rather than weaken the regime, the things that the Trump administration wants to see in Iran all have the effect of strengthening hard-liners.

Under the Trump administration’s chaos theory of American diplomacy, the current political disarray in Iran might easily be misinterpreted as a sign that the theocratic regime is losing legitimacy and domestic support. Indeed, if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s self-righteous tweets about the public backlash against the Iranian regime over the downing of the Ukrainian jet are to be believed, Tehran is inches away from a popular uprising. But even if the Trump administration is wrong now, what happens if its fantasy of political implosion and even regime collapse really does come true in the future?

Iran’s economy has already been pushed to the brink by renewed U.S. sanctions under Trump’s campaign of so-called “maximum pressure,” contracting by an estimated 9.5 percent in 2019. As some Iranian scientists have noted, Iran is also facing unprecedented stresses on its economy due to the government’s inability to manage shocks to the system due to climate change, including the “drying of lakes and rivers, dust storms, record-breaking temperatures, droughts, and floods.” Iran’s population is growing, set to reach some 84 million this year, but it has less arable land for cultivation than neighboring Afghanistan and more than twice the population.

It’s only a matter of time before Iran’s environmental degradation and economic decline metastasize into political entropy. This is not a scenario to welcome, as the Trump administration would. Especially if hard-liners emerge from February’s parliamentary vote with the upper hand, as expected, and are strengthened even more by the anticipated transition of power from Khamenei to his anointed successor as supreme leader, what then? Would a regime facing such domestic pressure seek to deescalate tensions with the United States, or ratchet them up in attempt to shore up its legitimacy?

Next, imagine what could happen in 2021, when Rouhani’s term ends. If a hard-liner wins the presidency, many Iranians might respond, as they did in 2009, with mass protests. Would the vestiges of the 2009 Green Movement be able to survive the inevitable state repression that would follow? The chances are slim.

Rather than weaken the regime, the things that the Trump administration wants to see in Iran—a choked economy, cracks in the political hierarchy—all have the effect of strengthening hard-liners. That only makes engagement with the U.S. harder, further undoing the positive effects of the nuclear deal. Short of a direct military confrontation with Iran, which Trump walked the U.S. to the edge of before backing off this month, the U.S. and Iran could soon be right back to square one in their standoff, with no diplomatic solution in sight.

Candace Rondeaux is a senior fellow and professor of practice at the Center on the Future of War, a joint initiative of New America and Arizona State University. Her WPR column appears every Friday.

Washington Doesn’t Understand The Shiite Horn (Daniel 8:8)

Shiite Muslim pilgrims walk in front of posters of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the spiritual leader of the Shiite community Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement Hasan Nasrallah during their procession from the holy Iraqi city of Najaf to the central shrine city of Karbala on Oct. 12, 2019.Shiite Muslim pilgrims walk in front of posters of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the spiritual leader of the Shiite community Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement Hasan Nasrallah during their procession from the holy Iraqi city of Najaf to the central shrine city of Karbala on Oct. 12, 2019. HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Washington Doesn’t Understand Shiite Clerics in Iran or Iraq

U.S. officials who praise Iraqi Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani while denouncing Iran’s supreme leader fail to grasp that the two clerical leaders have a shared interest in resisting outside threats.

On Jan. 17, as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most prominent Shiite leader in Iraq, was discharged from the hospital, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted three tweets—in English, Arabic, and Farsi—wishing him a speedy recovery and calling the ayatollah “a source of guidance and inspiration.”

The friendly approach toward Sistani was regarded as an attempt by Pompeo to portray U.S. support for the ayatollah, who the administration believes is countering Iranian influence in Iraq. This comes only weeks after Pompeo himself encouraged President Donald Trump to assassinate the Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani in an airstrike while the general was visiting Iraq.

It is no secret that Pompeo is a champion of exerting a maximum pressure strategy on what he calls “Khamenei’s kleptocracy,” in reference to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But his different and conflicting attitudes toward the two ayatollahs are yet another miscalculation on the part of the U.S. government in the tumultuous Middle East.

Just a day after the killing of Suleimani, Sistani sent an unprecedented letter to Khamenei expressing his condolences to Iran’s leader.

Sistani praised the extraordinary role that the martyr Suleimani played in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq.The letter is the first of its kind sent by Sistani to Khamenei in decades.

The subject of the letter—expressing condolences to Khamenei over the death of Suleimani—is noteworthy. Sistani has rarely issued a letter over the death of a non-cleric. This raises the question of what was so unique about Suleimani that made Sistani send a public letter to Khamenei. The answer lies in their shared belief in the necessity of an orchestrated, transnational effort to combat threats from outsiders. The perceived threat for the two ayatollahs comes both from fanatical militant groups like the Islamic State and from foreign intervention in the region. In their eyes, both have exacerbated regional instability over the past decade.

To tackle the former threat, Sistani took striking and definitive action in June 2014. As the threat of Islamic State encroachment on Baghdad was heightening, he issued a fatwa of jihad, obligating all Iraqis who were able to fight the terrorists to join the Iraqi security forces and to defend their homeland. This was almost a century after Ayatollah Sayyid Kadhim al-Yazdi’s fatwa against British forces who invaded Iraq in 1914, the last time a Shiite leader issued such a political edict.

His fatwa, nonetheless, paved the way for the foundation of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces. It was then that Suleimani and Iran’s Quds Force rushed to help Iraqis (Sunni, Shiite, and most notably Kurds) to organize the popular units in their fight against the Islamic State. Sistani’s goal was the protection of Iraq as the homeland of all Iraqis. Sistani seeks a sovereign and strong Iraqi state, which can safeguard the Shiite community but also Sunnis, Kurds, Yazidis, and Shabaks.

Sistani recognized the “extraordinary” and “unforgettable” role Suleimani played in achieving this goal in his letter.When it comes to foreign intervention, as a Shiite religious elite, Sistani cannot remain on the sidelines when Shiites in other countries, including Lebanon and Iran, are in danger. A case in point is when he liaised covertly with the United States to support a cease-fire during the 2006 war between the militant group and Israel.

Hamed al-Khaffaf, Sistani’s representative in Beirut and his son-in-law, revealed in an interview with one of us in August 2012 that at the time, following a request from Nabih Berri, the Shiite speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Sistani sent a dispatch to U.S. President George W. Bush through an Iraqi courier, reminding him about the regional consequences of postponing a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah. A couple of days later, despite previous objections, the United States voted in favor of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and called for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

His attitude toward Iran, which is a Shiite theocracy under the leadership of his fellow ayatollahs, is different. Although he is of Iranian descent, he has never publicly intervened in Iran’s domestic affairs. He never answered questions of his Iranian Shiite followers, the majority of his followers, whenever he was asked about domestic issues. On the contrary, he has frequently advised those Iranian elites who met with him to become united under the leadership of Khamenei.

There are many reasons to believe that when either clerical establishment is threatened by outsiders, their collective priority will be to maintain unity.

There is no debate over the fact that religious authorities in Iraq and Iran hold different political views. Nevertheless, there are many reasons to believe that when either clerical establishment is threatened by outsiders, their collective priority will be to maintain unity. Indeed, mainstream Shiite ayatollahs believe that they must avoid any attempt to weaken clerical authority. As Iran is ruled by ayatollahs, for Sistani, no matter if he belongs to a different school of thought, any threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran is tantamount to casting aspersions on Shiite Islam.

Sistani’s letter makes clear that he was not, is not, and would never be an enemy of Iran, despite all the differences he may have with its leaders. And this is a blind spot for decision-makers in Washington.

Time and again, U.S. strategy toward the Shiite ayatollahs has proved to be ill-informed when it comes to their internal dynamics, priorities, and interests. This internal dynamic—the ayatollahs’ nonnegotiable support for Shiite clerical authority and its stature—is so important and an unvarying principle among them that it even prompted the stubborn Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to revisit his earlier positions.

Sadr’s rise coincided with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Then, in his early 20s, he openly criticized the Najaf religious authority, referring to it as a “silent school”—hence passive toward political events taking place in its surroundings. Sadr wanted Sistani to act as a revolutionary leader; he might have wanted to see an Iraqi version of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Yet the seemingly quiet Shiite leader, or marja, had a different agenda.From his perspective, the priority was the future of the Shiite community and its clerical authority in such a volatile time and area.Sistani was looking forward to the chance for Shiites to gain power in a democratic Iraq, though expressing on several occasions his dismay with the attitude of the Shiite political elites in power.

Completing the Shi’a Crescent (Daniel 8:8)

Iran, Iraq and now Lebanon

There is never a shortage of crises in the Middle East. As if there wasn’t enough trouble in the region, now Lebanon is going through popular protests against the existing political order.

I will come to that later. First, we have the smoldering US-Iran crisis, which might, at any time, get out of hand to become a full-fledged conflict.

The US’s killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani led to Iranian retaliation with a missile attack on two Iraqi bases hosting US forces. This led to some US soldiers injured, though no fatality was reported.

Even as Iran was feeling self-satisfied with its revenge attack, it found itself under international pressure over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian plane, carrying 176 passengers of different nationalities. Having failed initially to blame this on the mechanical failure, it had no choice but to accept that a rogue missile, it had fired, was responsible for the tragedy. The video imagery was there for all to see.

Iran’s military commander expressed contrition; wishing that he would have liked to be its casualty. It was made clear that Iran would cooperate with an international investigation of the tragic incident.

However, during his Friday prayer gathering, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khameini, was much more assertive; trying to direct the blame to the US for creating tensions in the region, after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear agreement and targeting the Iranian general.

In other words, Iran is in no mood to surrender. And it is not inconceivable that the situation might get worse.

Iran is no longer committed to the 2015 nuclear agreement, already torn by the US. It is unhappy that European countries, which didn’t go along with Trump’s initial dumping of the nuclear deal, now seem keen for a renegotiated deal to not only curb/stop Iran’s nuclear program but also to push back its regional role.

The Trump administration hopes that Iran’s worsening economic situation from comprehensive economic sanctions, and in the midst of recent popular protests, might create conditions for a regime change. Though if it were to happen, which seems unlikely at the time, the chaos it will unleash-in the absence of a stable political order-will make things worse in the region; even globally, with all sorts of autonomous extremist elements going their own respective ways..

Iran is in no mood to surrender

The Trump administration is so fixated with the clerical regime in Iran that it hasn’t thought through the consequences. There is no Plan B if the Iranian regime were toppled.

Even as Iran is in crisis mode, its neighbor, Iraq, is descending further into anarchy. The widespread protests in the country against its corrupt regime has led the regime to indiscriminate use of force against protesters, resulting in more than 400 people dead. Complicating this is the protesters’ wrath against Iran, accused of controlling Iraq’s political process through its proxies and militias.

And after the killing by the US of the Iranian general Soleimani in Baghdad in a drone attack, and the retaliatory Iranian missile attack on Iraq-based US forces, Iraq looks like becoming the battleground between Iran and the US.

Coming to Lebanon, the country has been experiencing unrest since October when protests started seeking a new political order to get rid of the existing corrupt system, which has brought the country into a terrible mess. Lebanon’s economy is in free fall, with its currency losing value sharply, unemployment rising, inflation up, restrictions on bank withdrawals; though the ruling elite has their own way of accessing funds as has always been the case.

People had hoped that, after initial protests, the ruling class would sort out the mess at some time, but things have only been getting worse. The new government, emerging from the usual political deals, hasn’t inspired confidence, and people have come out into the street angrier than before, demanding real change.

And real change, short of a revolution (if at all) doesn’t seem likely, as Lebanon’s political system has inbuilt constraints. For instance, its religious/sectarian divide requires that the country’s governance be a coalition between the Sunnis, Shias, and Christians, with a Christian as president, with the prime minister and speaker of the assembly/parliament drawn respectively from the Sunni and Shia communities.

Therefore, most of the time Lebanon’s government is a hodge-podge of political and religious groups seeking to pursue their communal and personal agendas. As a result, the governing elite lacks any national perspective, putting people at the forefront.

And because of its underlying sectarian/religious political divide, the external influences, dictated by such preferences, tend to further complicate the picture. The Hezbollah, as Lebanon’s powerful Shia political and religious force, for instance, is aligned with Iran. Similarly, there is scope for external Sunni and Christian elements to muddy the waters.

Lebanon’s economy badly needs a concerted rescue plan from the IMF and/or other parties. With the lack of a credible government, prospects for Lebanon appear to be more of the same, if not worse.

The only silver lining, if it can be tapped, as shown by the mass protests, is that people of Lebanon, want to put aside their sectarian/religious divide in favour of a secular political order designed to put the people’s interests above everything else.

The problem is that like the Arab Spring before, this spontaneous people’s revolution is just that, without any political and organizational blueprint to take it through.

The writer is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia

Iran 5 Months Away From Producing a Nuclear Bomb

Explainer: How Close Is Iran to Producing a Nuclear Bomb?

By ReutersJan. 17, 2020, 12:58 p.m. ET

The Times reports from 160+ countries.

VIENNA/WASHINGTON — The central achievement of the Iran nuclear deal – keeping Tehran at arm’s length from nuclear weapons – is eroding.

The 2015 accord’s many restrictions on Iran’s atomic activities were built around one objective: to extend the “breakout time” Tehran would need to produce enough fissile material for one atomic bomb – if it decided to do so – to at least a year from around 2-3 months.

Iran maintains that it has never sought nuclear weapons and never would. It has long said it has enriched for civilian purposes including future nuclear energy and research projects.

Tehran began breaching the deal’s curbs last year in a step-by-step response to President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the deal in May 2018 and the reimposition of U.S. sanctions that have throttled Iran’s vital oil exports.

Those breaches have shortened the breakout time slightly, though Iran is far from sprinting ahead as fast as it could, reports by the U.N. nuclear watchdog policing the deal show.

But the breaches have been enough to prompt the European signatories to the deal to trigger its dispute resolution mechanism, raising the prospect of the global, United Nations sanctions that were lifted under the deal being reinstated.

WHAT HAS IRAN DONE?

Iran has contravened many of the deal’s core restrictions, but has said it will continue to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and its inspectors. The deal has imposed on Iran the most intrusive nuclear verification regime of any country, and it has not backed out of that yet.

* Enriched uranium – The deal limits Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to 202.8 kg – less than half the amount it was producing per quarter before its accord with world powers, and a small fraction of the tonnes it possessed. This was the first of Iran’s breaches last year, verified by the IAEA on July 1. The last quarterly IAEA report in November said the stockpile stood at 372.3 kg. It will have continued to increase since then.

* Enrichment level – The deal caps the fissile purity to which Iran can refine uranium to at 3.67%, far below the 20% it was achieving before the deal and the 90% that is weapons-grade. Iran breached that cap on July 8. Since then, however, its enrichment level has remained steady at up to 4.5%.

* Centrifuges – The deal only allows Iran to produce enriched uranium with about 5,000 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at its Natanz plant. It can operate small numbers of more advanced – faster-producing, more durable and efficient – models there without accumulating enriched uranium. Iran had roughly 19,000 installed centrifuges before the deal.

The IAEA verified on Sept. 25 that Iran had begun enriching with advanced centrifuges, but in much smaller numbers than the IR-1s. Iran has brought online two 164-machine cascades of centrifuges that were dismantled under the deal, and installed smaller clusters of other models. As those come online, its production of enriched uranium is likely to increase.

The Islamic Republic has yet to breach the cap on IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz.

* Fordow – The deal bans enrichment at Fordow, a site that Iran secretly built inside a mountain and was exposed by Western intelligence services in 2009. Centrifuges are allowed there for other purposes, like producing stable isotopes https://www.iaea.org/topics/nuclear-science/isotopes/stable-isotopes. Iran began enriching there on Nov. 9 but only with a small number of IR-1s.

HOW CLOSE IS IRAN TO HAVING A BOMB NOW?

The breaches have eaten into the breakout time slightly, but estimates of the current breakout time vary. Many diplomats and nuclear experts also believe the starting point of one year is a conservative estimate.

A European diplomat who previously put the breakout time at 12 months declined to offer an estimate but said Iran’s actions were now “having a serious impact”.

Another diplomat pointed to a statement by France’s foreign minister last week that it would take Iran one to two years to get a bomb, though it was not clear if that meant the necessary fissile material or an actual weapon.

David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and a hawk on Iran, said Tehran could within five to 10 months amass 900 kg of uranium enriched to 4.5% at its current rate. That amount, if further refined, could yield the 25 kg of weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium needed for one nuclear bomb.

WHAT MORE WOULD IRAN NEED TO DO?

Even if Iran had accumulated sufficient fissile material, it would need to assemble a bomb, probably one small enough to be carried by its ballistic missiles. How long that would take exactly is unclear, but stockpiling enough fissile material is widely seen as the biggest hurdle in producing a weapon.

Both U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran once had a nuclear weapons program that it halted. There is evidence suggesting Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon and carried out various types of work relevant to making one.

U.S. intelligence experts, however, believe Iran has yet to demonstrate an intention to shatter the 2015 deal, three U.S. government sources said, noting Tehran continues to grant the IAEA access to its declared nuclear facilities.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay in Washington, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

So Much for Obama’s Breakout Period

Iran’s Rouhani says ‘no limit’ to uranium enrichment, producing more than before Obama-era deal

By Danielle Wallace | Fox News

Iran says they are enriching more uranium than before 2015 nuclear deal

Iran’s president makes the new claim as the regime faces growing pressure from European nations for breaking their commitments to the deal.

A defiant Iranian President Hassan Rouhani boasted Thursday that there is “no limit” to his country’s level of uranium enrichment – just days after European powers raised concerns about the Islamic Republic backing away from a 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani’s comments follow an announcement from Iran in the wake of Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s killing that the country will no longer respect limits set on how many centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium.

“We are enriching more uranium before the deal was reached,” Rouhani said during a televised speech before the heads of banks. “Pressure has increased on Iran but we continue to progress.”

We have no limits on the nuclear file, and we are increasing enrichment every day,” he added, according to a tweet from the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen Channel.

Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the nuclear site near Arak, Iran. (AP/Atomic Energy Organization of Iran)

But Iran so far has only modestly increased its nuclear activity, the Associated Press says.

In recent months it has boosted its enrichment of uranium to 4.5 percent — higher than the 3.67 percent limit set by the agreement but far from the 20 percent enrichment it was engaged in before the deal. Uranium must be enriched to 90 percent to be used in a nuclear weapon.

President Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May 2018, in part because it did not address Iran’s support for armed groups across the region and its ballistic missile program. The U.S. has since imposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.

Iran continued to abide by the agreement until last summer, when it began openly breaching some of its limits, saying it would not be bound by the deal if it saw none of its promised economic benefits.

Britain, France, and Germany, which signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015, sent a letter to the European Union’s foreign policy chief on Tuesday saying that they are triggering its “dispute mechanism” – which begins a process that could result in the U.N. restoring sanctions it previously lifted under the agreement if Iran continues to back away.

“We have therefore been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments,” the foreign ministers of the three countries wrote.

Fox News’ Greg Norman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

How Obama Betrayed Babylon the Great

Obama Should Never Have Appeased Iran

Returning to a strategy of containment, backed by clear and credible deterrence, is more urgent than ever.

Mario Loyola6:00 AM ET

Former foreign policy advisor at the Pentagon

Wana News Agency / Reuters

After Iran’s turn from ally to enemy in 1978, the U.S. pursued a de facto Iran policy of containment, similar to the U.S. approach to the Soviet Union during Cold War. Starting with the Obama administration, however, U.S. policy has seesawed between appeasement and confrontation, leading to a dangerously volatile situation.

Though it was never formalized, the strategy that came together under the administration of George W. Bush (I served at the Pentagon and in the Senate during this time) had three pillars. First, impose prohibitive penalties on Iran’s nuclear advance. Second, bolster America’s allies on Iran’s periphery—and particularly America’s precious alliance with Iraq—to prevent any Iranian threat to their security and to our position in the Middle East. Third, encourage Iran’s pro-democracy movement to assert itself and claim its rightful place in the country’s government.

When Obama became president, this strategy of containment backed by deterrence was working about as well as could be hoped. The Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini, which was supposed to be a worldwide revolution, had succeeded in taking root nowhere outside Iran except in Lebanon, in the form of the deadly Hezbollah. At that time, there were elements among the Shiite militias in Iraq that were known to be in bed with the Iranians, and Iranian IEDs and other weapons had flooded Iraq’s civil war, but the major political groupings in Iraq, including the Shiite parties, were still openly opposed to Iranian interference in their country. In fact, on the eve of the 2008 election in the U.S., the Shiite-dominated government of Nouri Al-Maliki attacked the Iranian-backed militias that had infiltrated the southern city of Basra.

Tom Nichols: Iran’s smart strategy

A few years in, the Obama administration took a major gamble. Seeing promise in less hostile relations with Iran, Obama decided to cut a deal with the mullahs. The nuclear deal of 2015 dismantled the regime of U.N. sanctions that had all but ruined the Iranian economy, in exchange for temporary limits on the key facilities of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and vague commitments never to develop nuclear weapons.

At the White House press conference where he unveiled the deal, Obama was asked whether it would allow the U.S. “to more forcefully counter Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, quite aside from the nuclear question.” In other words, would the deal buttress or undermine the containment of Iran? Among the points Obama made in response was this: “It’ll be a lot easier for us to check Iran’s nefarious activities, to push back against the other areas where they operate contrary to our interests or our allies’ interests if they don’t have the bomb.”

There were some problems with this answer. Just a few years earlier, Obama had withdrawn U.S. forces from Iraq, in effect delivering America’s Iraqi allies to Iran on a silver platter. Iran would now have a land bridge all the way across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the Israeli border, and could hardly be expected not to take advantage it. Moreover, while it was no doubt true that dealing with Iran would be less difficult if it didn’t have the bomb, the nuclear deal didn’t exactly solve that problem, because it left Iran with all the basic elements of both a plutonium- and uranium-pathway serial production capability for nuclear warheads, which it could activate in a matter of months. Third, the deal itself was seen by many in Tehran as a surrender on America’s part, not entirely without justice considering the U.S. had caved on the key demands in U.N. Security Council resolutions going back nearly a decade. For all these reasons, Obama’s well-wishes notwithstanding, the baseline presumption had to be that Iran would feel emboldened, and it would it would be more, not less, difficult to deal with Iran’s other “nefarious activities.”

And so it proved. In Iraq, Iranian support for Shiite militias translated into influence over the Iraqi government itself. In Syria, Obama acquiesced to Russia’s and Iran’s entry into the civil war, making Assad’s eventual victory a foregone conclusion. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has all but completed its takeover of the state. The rise of ISIS brought the U.S. back to Iraq after a brief interregnum, but under a dispensation which left Iran free to continue its subjugation of Iraq. As such, the U.S. arguably served as Iran’s proxy air force in Iran’s fight against ISIS, further helping to cement Iran’s regional hegemony.

Though it was surely not his intention, Obama’s strategy in many ways boiled down to appeasement. When President Trump came to office, Republicans saw an opportunity to undo the hated deal. They put relentless pressure on the president to withdraw from it, which he eventually did. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a return to withering sanctions, tied to maximalist demands that exceeded even those of the Bush administration.

But if the Iran deal was a mistake, could the mistake be undone by withdrawing from the deal? The costs to the U.S. were sunk. The U.S. had given up the international sanctions regime in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program that would expire in just a few years, so the dilemma of what do about it had only been postponed. Withdrawing from the deal would merely bring forward the day the U.S. would have to face the dilemma again, this time without the benefit of a united diplomatic front. In the meantime, Iran’s compliance with the deal’s limited verification regime (no military sites, no anytime-anywhere inspections, IAEA purview restricted to declared facilities) provided at least a minimal benefit.

Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, then, did not ipso facto mean that the U.S. was returning to a strategy of containment backed by deterrence. If anything, withdrawing from the deal implied a policy of confrontation, but was the administration really committed to winning it? Trump’s foreign policy approach, which the Washington Post columnist Max Boot calls “belligerent isolationism,” does not shy from projecting American power abroad, but resists foreign commitments, and sometimes seems ambivalent toward the very allies needed for almost any strategy of confrontation to succeed.

David Frum: We’re just discovering the price of killing Soleimani

The administration’s approach to sanctions is a case in point. Sanctions have significantly diminished Iran’s oil revenue, with devastating effects. To soften the impact on world oil prices, America’s Gulf allies—principally Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—moved to replace the lost Iranian supply. Iran rightly saw all of this as a campaign of economic warfare, and responded by first attacking Saudi and Emirate oil shipments, then a major production facility in Saudi Arabi, and finally a U.S. drone. Yet the U.S. hardly responded to these provocations, no doubt leading many in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to wonder whether it mightn’t be safer to assume a more neutral posture toward Iran.

The U.S. only reacted with force when Iran openly orchestrated a series of attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and other installations in Iraq that left an American dead. The killing of an American without plausible deniability is a redline the government of Iran is not likely to cross again anytime soon. But will the credible enforcement of that redline be enough to shore up the multinational sanctions regime, or establish the level of containment necessary for stability in the region?

Any chance of containing Iran depends on strengthening America’s system of regional alliances—and especially on reviving the U.S. alliance with Iraq. Americans may not understand that, but Iran does. That’s why in recent weeks it escalated from attacks on U.S. Gulf allies to direct attacks on U.S. installations in Iraq. That’s why its principal response to the killing of Iranian General Qaseem Soleimani was to attack installations with U.S. personnel in Iraq. If Iran can expel the Americans from Iraq and cow America’s other Gulf allies into assuming a more neutral posture, it can dominate much of the Middle East, no matter what the level of US. forces in the region. In that case, the loss of Soleimani will have been more than worth it.

Iran may now be more hesitant to kill Americans. But if it isn’t afraid to challenge U.S. interests in other ways, then the Middle East is likely to get more dangerous in the months ahead, as Iran finds new ways of forcing America to choose between appeasement and a war that no American wants. That’s why returning to a strategy of containment, backed by clear and credible deterrence, is more urgent than ever.

Mario Loyola is a program affiliate scholar of the Classical Liberal Institute of New York University, and a visiting fellow at the National Security Institute of George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. He is a former foreign policy advisor at the Pentagon and in the U.S. Senat

How the Obama Administration Sold Our Soul

Kerry on Billions in Iran Payments: ‘We Gave Them a Little Bit of Money’

By Rick Moran January 11, 2020

John Kerry and Barack Obama have blood on their hands after giving $1.7 billion in cash payments to Iran. That money was used to finance terrorist attacks and buy weapons that are currently killing innocent civilians in Yemen and Syria. This much is certain.

But you’d never know it listening to John Kerry. He thinks it’s no big deal that the U.S. paid half a billion dollars in cash to get a few American hostages out of Iranian jails. Neither does he think the nearly $2 billion in funds the Obama administration sent along to Tehran did anything except pay down the ayatollah’s debts.

Washington Free Beacon:

We gave them a little bit of money that was released in that period of time, not as part of the nuclear arrangement,” Kerry said. “But the fact is the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] had all the money it wanted. The IRGC wasn’t starving at that point in time, and in fact, Iran owed billions upon billions of dollars. Most of that money went to pay off their debts and to facilitate their economic initiatives.”

Iran, indeed, may have used that “little bit of money” to pay off its debts — which freed up other monies to send to Hezbollah and other Shia armed groups all over the Middle East. Is he really that ignorant, or is he simply trying to obfuscate the facts?

It’s true that the $1.7 billion in cash paid to Iran was not part of the sanctions relief Iran got under the nuclear deal. Instead, the monies were from an arms deal gone sour when Iran erupted into chaos in 1979.

The monies Iran got from unfreezing its assets was bad enough. But the windfall that fell into the mullahs’ lap after their assets were unfrozen can’t be brushed off.

As part of the nuclear deal Kerry brokered, Iran received $150 billion in sanctions relief in the form of unfrozen assets held in banks around the globe. The U.S. Treasury Department estimated Iran had roughly $55 billion left over of that amount after fulfilling its other financial obligations, according to the  Washington Post.

Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, backing such proxy groups as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Kerry and the Obama administration insist to this day that: 1) they didn’t pay ransom for American hostages, and 2) Iran didn’t use the cash for terrorism. Is that right?

“Obama officials are the last people on earth who are pretending that the $1.7 billion wasn’t a ransom payment,” one foreign policy consultant who worked with Congress on the nuclear deal told the  Washington Free Beacon at the time. “Everyone else knows what happened, which is that we rewarded Iranian hostage takers.”

The Obama administration denied the cash was a ransom, but the State Department later admitted it delayed the initial $400 million payment as “leverage” to secure the release of three prisoners held by Iran.

According to several sources, Iran pays the terrorist group Hezbollah $700 million every year. Every dollar that Iran used to pay down its debt was one more dollar for Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, and Shia terrorists throughout the region. Of course Kerry and Obama have blood on their hands.

Maybe Kerry is simply denying reality. It’s a helluva thing to live with the knowledge your arrogance and stupidity has cost hundreds — perhaps thousands of innocents their lives. It’s so much easier for Kerry to retreat into his fantasy world while the harsh reality of his blundering continues to bedevil the world.

Obama’s Betrayal of Babylon the Great

Obama Met With One of the Iran-Backed Militia Leaders in Baghdad Embassy Attack

By Tyler O’Neil December 31, 2019

On Tuesday, members of the Iran-backed militia Kata’ib Hezbollah and their supporters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Hadi al-Amiri, a member of the Iraqi parliament and former head of the Badr Organization with close ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, took part in the embassy attack. In 2011, Amiri visited the White House and met with then-President Barack Obama.

“Did you know Badr Corps chief Hadi Ameri, who led today’s raid on the US Embassy in Iraq, was once invited to the [White House] by [Barack Obama]?” asked Iranian news editor M. Hanif Jazayeri. “FYI: Ameri & the Badr Corps get their salary & orders from Iran’s dictator Ali Khamenei.”

Jazayeri also noted that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called on Iraqis to take over the American embassy just two months ago.

Steven Nabil reported seeing Amiri at the embassy-storming along with other Iraqi government officials.

“The storming of the U.S embassy compound in Baghdad is happening in the presence government and paramilitary officials including Faleh Al Fayadh, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, Hadi Al Amere and many Militia leaders and some Iraqi MPs,” Nabil tweeted with pictures.

In December 2011, Amiri attended a White House meeting with Obama. He attended the meeting with then-Iraqi Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and several other Baghdad advisers. Amiri’s presence at the meeting was noteworthy, considering his past with the Badr Corps during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

The Obama White House pointed out that the Bush administration reached out to Iraqis who were close to the Iranian government during Saddam’s rule.

Obama would go on to push the disastrous Iran nuclear deal, offering sanctions relief and secret cash payments in return for promises not to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran never intended to keep.

In March 2015, Amiri praised Iran in the fight against the Islamic State, condemning Iraqis who “kiss the hands of the Americans and get nothing in return.” He celebrated Iran’s “unconditional” support.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

Division in the Iranian Horn

Activities of the MEK Resistance Units in Tehran and other cities

Khamenei, Rouhani Must Face Justice for Committing Crime Against Humanity

29 December 2019

Written by Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) on .

Iran: Posting messages, pictures of Resistance’s Leadership in Tehran, other cities on 40th day memorial of martyrs

On December 27, 2019, Resistance Units posted pictures and messages of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and Mr. Massoud Rajavi, the Leader of the Iranian Resistance, in Tehran and other cities, including Tabriz, Isfahan, Karaj, Ahvaz, Neka (Mazandaran Province), and Golestan Province.

The banners read in part, “Khamenei, Rouhani must face justice for committing crimes against humanity,” “Death to Khamenei, hail to Rajavi,” “The blood of martyrs has blossomed into flowers,” “Hail to the proud martyrs of the Iranian people’s uprising,” “Hail to rebels for freedom, hail to Iran uprising for the overthrow [of the regime],” “Hail to heroes who shook the regime to its foundations,” “Blood of hundreds of martyrs have strengthened the resolve for rebellion in Iran,” and “The only answer to the Sheikh is fire.”

Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran

December 29, 2019

Tehran – District 5

Tehran- Picture and Message of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the NCRI

Tabriz – Vali Asr Park

Karaj-  Picture of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the NCRI

Isfahan

Ahvaz

Pictures and Messages of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the NCRI, and Mr. Massoud Rajavi, the Leader of the Iranian Resistance

Tabriz, Daneshsara Square – Picture of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the NCRI

Isfahan

Isfahan

Tabriz

Naka – Mazandaran Province

The Hypocrisy of Ayatollah Khamenei (Daniel 8:4)

Ayatollah Khamenei says martyrs must be honored

TEHRAN – Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that martyrs must be honored, because there are “malicious” moves in line with marginalizing martyrdom.

“Honoring martyrs is an essential thing to do and is a duty upon all of us because there are malicious policies and moves aimed at making the revolution’s symbols, especially Jihad and martyrdom, forgotten and we have to stand against these policies,” he said during a meeting with members of the Hormozgan martyrdom congress on December 16 which was published on Thursday.

He said that martyrs are a symbol of altruism and those who are ready to die on the path of defending righteousness and attached great importance to introducing these “very valuable symbols” to the youths.

Elsewhere, the Leader said that islands in Hormozgan province are very important from security, economic and historical aspects.

He added that the people in this province face economic problems which must be addressed.