President Trump and his national security team have been taking considerable heat from the usual Trump-hating Democrats and many in the mainstream media over cautionary military deployments in response to recent intelligence with respect to Iran. National Security Adviser John Bolton in particular has been called out as looking for a war with Iran, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has fared little better.
Possibly, the critics should stand back and think about Iran’s sordid history and what the implications of not taking these actions might be. Without question Iran’s actions since the fall of the shah have been disgraceful and in defiance of any norms of international behavior.
The Supreme Leader of Iran and his pack of mullahs in the “death to America” and “death to Israel” crew have been responsible for the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the Iranian hostage crisis, slaughter of Americans at the Khobar towers, attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq; endless support of terrorists across the Middle East; and long-term attempts to build nuclear weapons.
This otherwise unblemished history has only been punctuated by the Obama administration’s brief love affair with Iran, which produced a highly problematic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or Iran nuclear deal) — never ratified by the Senate — that at best kicked that can down the road a few years and did nothing to stop Iranian support for terrorists and related efforts to kill Americans. To sweeten this deal, Mr. Obama airlifted some $150 billon in cash to Iran that largely went to fund the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and ongoing terrorist operations.
By all accounts the most recent U.S. statements and actions have been in response to actionable intelligence — not a manufactured crisis. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is briefing both the House and Senate on the classified information, which likely includes satellite imagery as well as communications intercepts.
According to some reports, the Israeli intelligence services, which have extensive operations in Iran, have also provided some important intelligence as well. The bottom line is that this is nothing invented by Messrs. Bolton, Pompeo or Trump as an excuse to start a war. Indeed, President Trump has repeatedly stated that he doesn’t want one.
What has taken place is that the intelligence was provided to Central Command which has followed established procedures and made appropriate recommendations to the secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare for any possible Iranian strike. These in turn were provided to the rest of the national security team, including the National Security Council and the State Department. This is how the system is supposed to work.
The deployment of B-52 bombers and other aircraft to the area, as well as the movement of a carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf sent an important signal to the Iranians — that this administration is simply not going to tolerate more attacks by Iran or Iranian proxies on Americans. The era of endless lying is about over. For those who don’t remember, the Iranian hostage crisis ended the day Ronald Reagan took the oath of office, largely because the Iranians feared what he might do and the Democratic President Jimmy Carter never did — or was afraid to do.
Now consider the case if the United States had simply ignored the intelligence and done nothing — as Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton did in the Benghazi fiasco. If the Iranians then did engage in some attack, once again, the Trump administration would be held accountable for another intelligence failure and the death of more Americans. The Democrats and their sycophants at the mainstream media would be in a frenzy.
From Pearl Harbor through 9/11 and since, the nation has gone down this road too many times. At least this administration is pledged to not let that happen again.
Some of us who have been dealing with the Middle East and the problems of Iran since the 1970s appreciate the attention Mr. Bolton gives to a situation he understands very well; he is one of us and not easily persuaded by the fake line Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif has been spouting. Mr. Zarif may be John Kerry’s best friend, but he is nothing but a shill for the mullahs who control Iran and who have no intention of stopping the nuclear program, supporting terrorism or threatening to destroy Israel.
So what now? Mr. Trump has repeatedly offered to talk to the Iranians, who refuse any dialogue unless some sanctions against that country are lifted. This would be a major error. If anything, they should be even more strictly enforced, as the Iranians have absolutely no interest in changing their behavior unless strongly pressed to do so.
For their part, the Iranians would be better off if they stopped making idle threats to attack Tel Aviv, or most recently close the straits of Bab al-Mandab and Hormuz, and the Suez Canal. Mr. Trump is correct: An attack on the United States or Israel would mean the end of Iran. Possibly the Iranians are getting this now, as their rhetoric has changed in the past few days.
How long the civilized world is willing to tolerate their support of terrorists in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere remains to be seen. Sooner or later this needs to stop. Mr. Trump has also raised the important point that Iran cannot be permitted to develop nuclear weapons. Already the Iranians have threatened to enrich more uranium beyond the 20 percent level and are likely to have resumed other aspects of the program covertly.
Here the United States needs to make it clear to Iran, and best through a non-public “backchannel,” that at least under this president the United States is serious and will take action to eliminate the nuclear program. If the Iranian idea is to hold out until Mr. Trump goes away and they can deal with a Democratic administration, they are making a big mistake.
• Abraham Wagner served in senior national security positions.
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