A great deal of media attention was focused this week on the escalation of tensions between America & Iran. We all heard from General Flynn, the National Security Advisor and from President Trump. But where was General Mattis, the Secretary of State? He was in South Korea & in Japan this week assuring them of United States support.
This is a big deal because the biggest & the most difficult foreign policy problem for the United States is North Korea’s small but growing arsenal of nuclear weapons & ballistic missiles. Their actual capabilities may not be clear but it seems accepted that they do have at least a couple of nuclear weapons that can be used against South Korea & even Japan. That makes solving the problem very difficult with potentially disastrous consequences for the region.
That brings us to Iran. Simply put, Iran is another North Korea in the making. And that should be utterly unacceptable to every one. And Iran is moving along the same path that North Korea has followed for the past 22 years under three American Presidents.
1.North Korea’s path
Read what President Clinton said on October 18, 1994:
- “Good afternoon. I am pleased that the United States and North Korea yesterday reached agreement on the text of a framework document on North Korea’s nuclear program. This agreement will help to achieve a longstanding and vital American objective: “an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula“.
- “Today, after 16 months of intense and difficult negotiations with North Korea, we have completed an agreement that will make the United States, the Korean Peninsula, and the world safer. Under the agreement, North Korea has agreed to freeze its existing nuclear program and to accept international inspection of all existing facilities“.
- “This agreement represents the first step on the road to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. It does not rely on trust. Compliance will be certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency”.
President Clinton had zero intention of taking any military steps and North Korea knew that. So they negotiated hard for 16 months to agree to something they had no intention of keeping. Look what has happened since then:
- North Korea received the aid they needed from President Clinton and then in 2002, that agreement collapsed. North Korea claimed that it had withdrawn from the NPT in January 2003 and once again began operating its nuclear facilities.
- Enter President Bush. Multilateral negotiations began in August 2003 and “achieved” critical breakthroughs in 2005, when North Korea pledged to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs” and return to the NPT, and in 2007, when the parties agreed on a series of steps to implement that 2005 agreement.
- Enter President Obama. These multilateral talks broke down in 2009 after North Korea launched a rocket test & was condemned for it. North Korea used this condemnation to state it would never return to the talks and is no longer bound by their agreements.
Long intense negotiations and multilateral agreements allowed North Korea to buy time, get aid & continue to build their nuclear and missile capabilities during the past 22 years. They faced three American Presidents who were preoccupied with other problems and had no intention of taking any military steps to destroy growing North Korean capabilities. The result – today’s North Korea which could possibly use a couple of nuclear weapons against other countries in the region. That makes a military campaign against North Korea far more dangerous than it would have been in 2009, 2003 or 1994.
2. Balance of Power Iran
That brings us back to Iran which is already far more dangerous with their non-nuclear military capabilities than North Korea is or would be. Iran already is winning its war in the Middle East against Saudi Arabia & the GCC. Iranian ground forces have been fighting in Syria, actually spearheading the fight in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime.
Not all of this is bad. Iran was instrumental in helping the Iraqi Army fight ISIS during the ISIS offensive that had reached the outskirts of Baghdad. Iran could be again be very helpful in containing the Taleban in a post-American Afghanistan. Such an Iran could help ensure a balance of power status quo between Saudi Arabia/GCC Sunni coalition and the Shiite majority region of the Middle East. That is why we were in favor of an Iran Nuclear deal that ensured a balance of power based nuclear-free Iran. That has already worked with Iranian economy doing much better and the crazy overreach of Saudi Arabia winding down.
But an Iran with ballistic missiles is a totally different animal. And a missile-capable Iran emboldened by a weak, hastily agreed upon deal by a departing US Administration is dangerously different. That is a turbo-charged North Korean equivalent. At least North Korea faces South Korea and Japan which are both militarily (conventional) and economically stronger. In contrast, Iran faces no challenges in its immediate neighborhood.
3. Enter President Trump
Recall the words of Candidate Trump about North Korea. He raged against the stupidity of Clinton’s 1994 agreement that put North Korea on its path. That North Korea had nothing and destroying their nascent nuclear program would have been easy. But President Clinton had no interest whatsoever in doing so. Fast forward to August 2003. Caught in the Iraq quagmire, President Bush had no bandwidth or interest in taking out North Korean nuclear infrastructure. President Obama ditto.
In contrast, President Trump has arrived determined to ensure Iran doesn’t become a North Korea equivalent. He, smartly, is not interested in tearing up the multilateral nuclear deal. But he has warned Iran that his administration will monitor Iran’s behavior to ensure Iran’s compliance.
Remember non-nuclear-capable ballistic missiles are NOT a part of that Iran deal. That makes it a two sided opportunity. It leaves Iran free to develop & build non-nuclear ballistic missiles and leaves the Trump administration free, meaning without breaking the Iran nuclear deal, to sanction Iran and, if necessary, degrade these capabilities by whatever means desirable and/or necessary.
That means this is a contest of will. And we will take President Trump’s resolute will against the bazaar-trading mentality of Iran any day and certainly now. Not just Mr. Trump but Secretary of State General Mattis and National Security Adviser General Flynn as well. There is no shortage of will here and no shortage of clear-sighted antipathy towards Iran.
Iran knows that and should understand that. The Obama Administration officials had warned Iran (per Kimberly Dozier on CNN OutFront on Friday, February 3), that the new guys are just waiting for Iran to make a misstep and advised Iran to not give them an opportunity.
But Iran decided to test President Trump despite these warning. And now? Ali Arouzi, NBC’s Tehran Bureau chief, said on Friday – “… now there is a huge sense of foreboding here in Iran; they don’t know what the future is gonna hold with President Trump“.
Arouzi also added that when President Trump got elected, the Iranians felt they could deal with businessman Trump. But, “when he selected his security team Mattis & Flynn etc, the Iranians were shaking in their boots here for they knew this was going to be a whole new era“.
4. Listen up Iran
First read the White House statement by Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor:
- “The international community has been too tolerant of Iran’s bad behavior. The ritual of convening a United Nations Security Council in an emergency meeting and issuing a strong statement is not enough. The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests. The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over“
Note this has nothing to do with the Nuclear deal. It is free & open range. Also President Trump has left no doubt that General Flynn is speaking with & for him and his Administration.
These are serious words from a deadly serious team. And both General Mattis & General Flynn know Iran very well. And many in Iran know them & are wary of them.They should also know that there is tremendous bipartisan appetite in America to defang Iran.
But Iran is riddled with factions, some spoiling with America whom they continue to consider a paper tiger. It is quite likely the Republican Guards will talk big and even conduct exercises to show they are not afraid. They might also use this to get rid of Prime Minister Rouhani and elect their own hardliner. They should all be careful what they wish for.
The bottom line is that President Trump is exceedingly unlikely to leave office without eliminating Iran as a ballistic missile & nuclear threat to the Middle East and the World. That would also be the best lesson to North Korea to behave.
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