Trump’s Iran approach is every bit as weak as Obama’s was

The four Western powers that are parties to the Iran nuclear deal condemned Iran on Tuesday for violating an arms embargo on Yemen, a day after Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution that took aim at Tehran over its failure to abide by the U.N. sanctions.

France, Germany, the United Kingdom and United States issued a joint statement saying Iran’s non-compliance, as described by a U.N. panel of experts, “poses serious risks to peace and stability in the region.”

The four countries called on Iran “to immediately cease all activities that that are inconsistent with or would violate the terms” of the 2015 council resolution authorizing the arms embargo.

Empty resolutions point to the administration’s failure to address Iran’s non-nuclear behavior in the region (whether in Yemen or Syria), not to mention its human rights record and ballistic missile program. If President Barack Obama was fixated on a nuclear deal, then President Trump can fairly be said to be fixated on reversing it — with no success and to the detriment of other issues, which we might arguably be able to address with a coherent policy approach.

This has not gone unnoticed by members of Congress. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) are sounding the alarm over tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, operating under Russia and Iran’s protective umbrella:

“Any time you leave a meeting where the request is ammunition, ammunition, ammunition, that’s probably not good,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of a meeting with Israeli officials. Graham is the Senate’s lead appropriator for the U.S. State Department and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. …

“When they tell you we want help to deal with the blowback that might come from attacks on civilian targets where Hezbollah has integrated military capability, that was pretty striking,” Graham said of talks with Israeli officials.

Fresh from leading a bipartisan congressional delegation last week to Israel, Jordan, Greece and the U.K., Graham told reporters: “This was the most unnerving trip I’ve had in a while.”

Coons agrees that the situation is deteriorating. (“The tempo in terms of potential for conflict in Syria has gone up; the technologies Iran is projecting into Syria and southern Lebanon has gone up; Iran’s willingness to be provocative, to push the edges of the envelope, to challenge Israel, has gone up.”)

Iran is every bit as aggressive and destabilizing now as it was when Obama was in power. “While Trump may be unlike Obama in terms of readiness to provoke the Iranians, his reluctance to be drawn into Middle East conflicts appears similar. The caution is warranted but there are different ways to be involved and to affect outcomes,” veteran Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross tells me. “We have to recognize the nature of the threat, and understand that there are local partners who will do more if they know we won’t leave them in a lurch; there is the deterrent value of the Iranians knowing there is a price they will pay; there is the danger of not recognizing the stakes until it is too late, and then being drawn in at a much higher price.” He adds: “There is also the need to see that allowing vacuums to form will force us sooner or later to deal with extremist forces that fill them. There are also the unintended consequences of humanitarian catastrophes.” He concludes, “If we don’t do more to raise the costs to the Iranians and the Russians, we will see a broader conflict in Syria involving the Israelis and Iranians and their proxies — it is easy to see how it starts, less clear to see how it ends.”

In sum, conservatives who were properly irate over Obama’s failure to confront Iran’s regional aggression should be every bit as critical of Trump’s passivity. If Iran hawks and friends of Israel really care about the Iran threat, they’ll start demanding a more effective policy — really, any policy — to contain Iran. The alternative is to allow Iran’s confidence and reach to grow, setting the stage for another Middle East war with alarming repercussions.



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