The world just got a little more dangerous this month. U.S. efforts to contain the nuclear weapon ambitions of rogue states Iran and North Korea have been wounded by the removal of National Security Advisor John Bolton. The end result is Tehran and Pyongyang – -which saw Bolton as an impediment to their nuclear ambitions because he best understood the psyche of their rogue leadership – will feel emboldened to continue pursuing those ambitions.
Trump Now Throwing The Mullahs A Lifeline?
Of serious concern is how quickly President Donald Trump – less than 24 hours after Bolton’s firing–is now entertaining the idea of throwing the mullahs an economic lifeline. It may well be this lifeline was what became the breaking point in the Trump/Bolton relationship.
Once again, the Iranian leadership finds itself – as it did during President George W. Bush’s term – on the ropes as U.S. sanctions have taken their toll. Much of the cash drain on Iran reduced its ability to fund global terrorism, including limiting its ability to fund Hezbollah in Lebanon as its terrorist proxy.
Obama’s Iran Appeasement
When President Barack Obama took office, he threw the Iranians a lifeline as well. Beginning in 2013, with his efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Tehran, he paid the mullahs an exorbitant monthly stipend just to sit at the negotiating table. After a deal was concluded in 2015, he lifted sanctions in January 2016, further rewarding Tehran by unfreezing its assets claimed to be valued at anywhere between $25-$150 billion. This effectively served to offset the damaging impact years of sanctions had had. Even billions of dollars in civil judgments obtained against Iran by families that had lost loved ones due to Tehran’s complicity in terrorist acts were denied a right to attach those assets.
When Trump took office, he recognized not only did Iran have a history under the mullahs’ leadership of failing to abide by most international agreements they signed, but, true to form, it was not abiding by Obama’s nuclear deal as well. This was determined despite the fact Obama’s deal prevented open inspections of suspicious sites harboring questionable activities. (Underscoring the ridiculousness of the verification required under Obama’s deal was that the taking of soil samples to test for nuclear residue at one important site was not to be collected by independent inspectors but by the Iranians.)
Trump’s Iran Sanctions Now Reconsidered?
Trump’s economic sanctions again began taking a toll on Iran. Funding for Hezbollah was significantly cut back. For over a year, domestic unrest has been active as people took to the streets to protest deteriorating economic conditions in Iran. Despite these challenges, Iran’s leadership beat its war drums, once again threatening to wipe Israel off the map. Yet our European partners in the Iranian nuclear deal have refused to withdraw from it, vowing to thwart Trump on the issue.
French President Emmanuel Macron began negotiating with the Iranians and dangled a $15 billion dollar bailout deal in front of them – albeit subject to U.S. approval to issue sanction waivers. It mandates the Iranians return to the Obama nuclear deal, complying with its terms, and that the credit line be backed with Iran’s oil reserves. This is the deal Trump is currently entertaining. There should be no doubt Bolton would have advised Trump not only to say “No” but “Hell, No!”
Trump, in the blink of an eye, seems to have drastically softened his tone toward Iran. He suggested. “They’re proud of their people. And we’re not looking for regime change. We hope that we can make a deal, and if we can’t make a deal, that’s fine too. But I think they have to make a deal.”
Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Bush 45, achieved a visceral appreciation for how the Iranian and North Korean leadership use deceit and manipulation to achieve their goals. He also knew from history how such leaders – lacking any real intention to honor them – use deals to buy time to gain indirectly that which they are unable to gain directly.
Fueling Iran’s Brutality & Terrorism
Just like Obama’s release in 2016 of billions of dollars to Iran bailed the government out of a deteriorating situation, a joint Macron/Trump credit deal will buy Tehran more time to brutally put down its protesters and to maintain its world records for executions per capita and of children.
It will also allow Iran to continue supporting the civil war in Yemen.
The mullahs have never been in a weaker position since coming to power four decades ago. Why we would offer Iran such a bailout at this time – further empowering the mullahs to continue their reign of terror – defies logic. But the Macron/Trump offer will clearly embolden the Iranian leadership to continue its business of terrorism as usual.
In fact, the Iranians insistence on playing hardball was evidenced most recently by the Houthi rebel drone attack against Saudi Arabia’s Khurais oil field and Abqaiq oil processing facility—the latter being the world’s largest. While the Houthis claim responsibility for the attack, the drones were provided by Iran.
Iran And North Korean Nuclear Technology Sharing
Bolton appreciated the fact, in dealing with both Iran and North Korea, it was imperative to use a firm hand. This was especially so since the two countries were allied in their efforts to build nuclear arsenals, sharing technology at every opportunity. Every time a North Korean nuclear or missile test was conducted, Iranian representatives were present. Obama knew this during nuclear negotiations with Iran, but undertook no effort to curtail such technology sharing. Thus the North Koreans and Iranians both play hardball against us while we continue to lob softballs.
Ignoring North Korean Aggression
North Korea’s leadership feels even more emboldened by Bolton’s removal. Where so many presidents have opted to play softball with North Korea, Bolton recognized it does not work. Each new U.S. president seems to believe he can succeed in reaching a deal with Pyongyang where others failed. This is their rationale because they ignore the need to play hardball based on Pyongyang’s long history of unprovoked aggression.
Unwittingly ignored are acts such as North Korea’s seizure of the USS PUEBLO (imprisoning its crew for eleven months and still refusing to return the ship), an assassination attempt on a South Korean president, kidnappings of South Korean citizens, bombings and other terrorist acts, torpedoing a South Korea warship killing 46 sailors, etc. Theirs is not a leadership in any way responsive to playing softball.
Pyongyang’s Kim Jong Il also viewed Bolton as an obstacle because Bolton understood how the North Koreans played the foreign policy game. It was based on the appearance of being willing to give something up but never surrendering anything of substance. Like Iran, North Korea, too, has a history of non-compliance with its international agreements. No one understood this better than Bolton. Kim’s euphoria over Bolton’s departure was made clear by his quick response – declaring that with the removal of the “war maniac,” Pyongyang is open to nuclear talks.
This Strategy Does Not Work
Unfortunately, Trump will discover – whether by this term’s end or, if re-elected, the next – softball has not worked with Pyongyang or Tehran.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un believes he has masterfully played his hand to remove Bolton from the foreign policy equation.
More than half a century ago, Frank Sinatra famously crooned the lyrics to the song, “It Was a Very Good Year.” Today, Iran’s mullahs and North Korea’s Kim are in harmony over September’s contribution to the advancement of their nuclear weapons efforts. They may well be crooning a new tune – “It was a very good month.”