Noah Rothman 8-13-15
The debate over the Iran nuclear deal in the United States long ago devolved into theater of the absurd – with an emphasis on the word “theater.”
The President of the United States has equated those who are concerned that the proposed accord lacks robust verification protocols and will leave Iran a well-armed, prosperous, threshold nuclear state within a decade of making common cause with the theocrats in Tehran. His aim, to mobilize a devoted core following of far-left liberals in order to pressure Congress not to reject the deal, is transparent. Secretary of State John Kerry has taken to defending the deal not on its merits but by scaring the public into fretting that the value of the dollar might collapse in the wake of a deal’s failure. Oh, and it would simply be bad form to “screw” the mullahs. Even those Democrats who do oppose this accord, like Senator Chuck Schumer, talk in blunt terms about the deal’s downsides but have not gone so far as to attempt to mobilize other influential Democrats against it. For your viewing pleasure, it is a dance in which the appearance of spontaneity is the design of the choreographers.
The terms of the Iran deal have been all but lost in the rote pageantry. Occasionally, though, the terror-supporting regime in Tehran overplays its hand and reminds observers in the West why it cannot be trusted. One such moment recently took place in Moscow, where the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds force, General Qasem Suleimani, was seen visiting Russian officials. Suleimani has been one of the biggest personal beneficiaries of the Iran nuclear deal. Despite his having been implicated in supplying and training militants responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers during the Iraq War, Suleimani will soon see the individual sanctions on him lifted.
“Gen. Qasem Soleimani will have his travel ban lifted and foreign assets unfrozen — sanctions imposed by the UN — if the deal goes as planned,” ABC News reported in July. “It was not immediately clear where he would be allowed to travel or which assets would be unfrozen under the deal.”
But while the United Nations has already approved of relieving the sanctions on the Iranian regime, they have not yet removed restrictions on individuals, like the 2007 resolution inhibiting Suleimani’s travel. It is grimly humorous that the State Department has responded to this provocation from Suleimani and Moscow by invoking that virtually defunct UNSC resolution. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told the New York Times that Foggy Bottom corresponded with their Russian counterparts, complained about Suleimani’s visit, and pledged to work through the Security Council to investigate and resolve the matter. Toner would perhaps find it a more productive use of his time to scream his protestations into a pillow.
“You know, the U.N. sanctions on Suleimani do remain in effect, so we call on all countries to respect and enforce designation made under U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Toner meekly griped.
“General Suleimani has long been of concern to the United States,” the Times reported. “In 2011, the Treasury Department put him on its sanctions list after the Obama administration charged that he had been involved in a plot to kill Adel al-Jubeir, a former Saudi ambassador in Washington who is now Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister. The Treasury Department has also subjected him to sanctions for his role in Syria and for the Quds force’s support for the Taliban and other militant groups.”
It is not merely Suleimani’s flagrant display of contempt for the United Nations and the West that’s troubling, but also Russia’s. It was Moscow that demanded the missile and arms embargos on Iran be lifted as part of a last-minute condition to the Iran nuclear deal – a stipulation that will likely result in greatly increased profits to the Russian defense sector. What the United States received in exchange was, supposedly, a Russia that would be a reliable enforcer of the terms of the deal and a guarantor of the consequences associated with non-compliance. Suleimani’s Moscow visit in violation of the UN sanctions confirms what any observer even remotely acquainted with Russian grand strategy already knows: Moscow has no intention of ever punishing Iran for failing to abide by the terms of the nuclear deal.
“Russia (and others) will have a stake in sustaining access to Iran’s markets, not re-imposing sanctions,” Charles Duelfer, a former CIA official in charge of overseeing Iraq’s WMD programs, wrote in April. “The track record of [President Vladimir] Putin and [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov in the Iraq case suggests that they will be working bi-lateral deals with Tehran.”
Russia’s casual defiance of the West confirms the wisdom of the fatalists. Not only is the Iran deal a fait accompli, but the sanctions regime will never “snap back.” In July, shortly after the terms of the deal were revealed to the public, Lavrov announced to the Russian public that President Barack Obama would now have to make good on his pledge to abandon plans for missile defense systems in Europe because the Iranian nuclear program had been “successfully regulated.” The Kremlin’s utter disregard for the cautious political dance underway in the West is revealing.
Iran is playing the United States for a sucker. Russia views America as a paper tiger to be disregarded. And all the administration can do is feign insult and pledge to take their grievances to the United Nations, where they will die a quiet and ignominious death. If this White House were still capable of embarrassment, this development would inspire fits of it. Perhaps the members of this administration are just too busy calling opponents of the Iran deal traitors to notice how they have enabled America’s true adversaries to outmaneuver them.