That article referred to Business Insider’s earlier claim that the two recent Iranian test launches were anticipated by the US, and that officials had responded in advance by restarting a missile defense system that could defend against the potential for multiple simultaneous launches from Iran. Value Walk also quoted a commentary piece written earlier in the week by Jonathan Tobin, in which he clarified that the missile tests are less a problem than what they have exposed about US policy toward Iran.
“[The problem] is the precedent that has been set by an American refusal to take Iran’s violations of these agreements seriously,” Tobin said. The November test of a Ghadr-class ballistic missile and the previous month’s test of an Emad-class missile have both been described as clear violations of UN resolutions regarding Iran’s ballistic missile activities. Critics have also suggested that a tepid response to these violations suggests that the US and its allies will be similarly permissive of direct violations of the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers.
Furthermore, the Obama administration has been variously accused of turning a blind eye to Iran’s bad behavior more generally, including its incursions into Syria and Iraq. This permissiveness was partly explained in an editorial that appeared in the Huffington Post on Thursday. It emphasized that compared to all powers with a hand in the Syrian crisis, it is Iran that has the most to win or lose.
The article declared that Iran is “calling the shots” in Syria simply because it “cares more.” Meanwhile both Russia and the US are helping it to retain its power in the region – Russia by actively supporting the Iranians and the US by refusing to take serious action to remove Iran’s ally, Bashar al-Assad, from the Syrian presidency.
This has been a source of criticism for Obama for nearly as long as the more than four-year Syrian Civil War has been raging. The US issued multiple red line warnings for the Assad regime but declined to actually enforce them. In a speech before the National Council of Resistance of Iran on Tuesday, former US Senator Joseph Lieberman suggested that such weakness in the region emboldens not only Iran but also Russia and others to challenge Western interests.
The two ballistic missile tests may be examples of this trend, but they are by no means alone. Many observers have noted a marked increase in anti-Western rhetoric coming from such sources as the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the past few months. Some of this rhetoric has coincided with arrests of activists and journalists who ostensibly have connections to the West.
It is possible that the Obama administration internally justifies the neglect of these sorts of propaganda and crackdowns via claims that there are other elements of the Iranian regime that are willing to counter them. Indeed, the administration embraced the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 as a triumph of moderation inside Iran. But Rouhani too has gotten involved in recent bouts of rhetoric.
For instance, Al Arabiya reported on Thursday that Rouhani had once again blamed the US for creating terrorism in the Middle East. While the remarks were somewhat vague, they reflect explicit conspiracy theories that have been expressed by Iranian propaganda networks, alleging for instance that Western powers deliberately created ISIL to destabilize the region.
Rouhani presented his remarks as a response to US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who suggested last week that the US should ban all Muslim immigrants until the conflict with ISIL is concluded. The Iranian president apparently took this statement to reflect upon the views of the US government, even though Trump has never held a position in government and is not regarded by American media as a serious candidate.
The US technically allows any natural born citizen to run for president, and substantial financial backing can lead to a successful campaign. In Iran, by contrast, no candidate for high office can express positions seriously out of step with those of the existing power structure, as every candidate must be approved by the clerical leadership before running. This fact has been cited by the Iranian resistance and others to dispel the notion that Rouhani is a potential source of reform.
Nevertheless, Rouhani is evidently regarded with such optimism by the Obama administration that it is willing to expose itself to serious criticism by taking little action against the ballistic missile tests, regional intrusions, arrests of Western affiliates, and so on. In fact the Wall Street Journal indicated on Thursday that the administration is so committed to upholding the nuclear agreement in spite of Western skepticism that it is helping broker a deal to remove Iran’s low-enriched uranium to Kazakhstan before the end of the year.
The Obama and Rouhani administrations are reportedly mutually hopeful that this will allow sanctions relief on the Islamic Republic to go into effect before the late February parliamentary elections in that country. Many analysts believe that such a development would be a boon to Rouhani’s political allies.