The author explains that American views on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are very much bound up with their views on the Islamic Republic as a whole. And it is difficult for Americans to justify much improvement in these views, relative to those that Americans have tended to hold since the 1979 hostage taking at the American embassy in Tehran.
The article goes on to explain that this situation makes it difficult for the Obama administration and other supporters of the nuclear deal to sell fellow Americans on comparisons between the current rapprochement with Iran and the former examples of improved relations with the Soviet Union and China.
The perceived difference is attributable in large measure to the persistence of anti-Western rhetoric and behavior by Tehran even in the aftermath of the July 14 signing of the JCPOA. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently declared that the deal would not set the stage for cultural or political influence on the Islamic Republic by the United States, and that Iranian officials would take all possible measures to prevent this.
Even more provocatively, a senior advisor to the speaker of the Iranian parliament reiterated Iran’s desire to “annihilate” the state of Israel this week. And several Iranian military leaders have continued to make provocative statements about readiness for war with Western powers. In keeping with those claims, Iranian officials also recently touted the development of new, longer range ballistic missiles, in apparent violation of elements of the nuclear deal that restrict work on nuclear-capable weapons until later in the life of the deal.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, described by some in the Obama administration as a moderate, explicitly said last week that the Islamic Republic would not abide by any resolution limiting the country’s purchase, sale, or development of any weapons of war.
What’s more, Israeli officials have filed a formal complaint with the UN Security Council alleging that Iran has headed recent unprovoked attacks on Israeli. The Daily Signal reported on this on Wednesday and quoted Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes as saying, “This incident doesn’t surprise me in the least, because the Iranians have made no effort whatsoever to hold back since the deal was announced.”
Pipes opposes the deal on the understanding that it can only be viewed as a good one if analysis is limited to the nuclear issue only. Many other opponents of the deal have similarly argued that the cash windfall of up to 150 billion dollars that Iran is set to receive under the nuclear deal will likely increase its financing of terrorist groups like Hezbollah, as the intrusions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force into regional conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War.
But the Obama administration and its allies have been inclined to accept the Iranian roles in Syria and Iraq in hopes that it would help to curtail the growth of the Islamic State militant group. But those who endorse a more negative view of Tehran argue either that it is not seriously committed to destroying ISIS, or that it is merely committed to replacing an imperial Sunni caliphate with a similar Shiite one.
The Tower notes that security researcher Michel Pregent has produced a map that contributes to the former view by purporting to show that Iran is making greater efforts to extend its influence in the region than to seriously confront ISIS. Pregent argues that the continued presence of ISIS is needed to justify Iranian activities.
Conversely, Iran’s activities have been blamed for boosting ISIS’ recruitment power, beginning with Iran’s support for the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and continuing with its promotion of a Shiite power grab in Iraq. The latter reportedly led many Sunnis into the arms of extremists who were viewed as the only serious defenders of their interests.
Now there are signs that the mutually radicalizing effects of the ISIS-Iranian conflict may be in danger of spreading to Afghanistan as well. The Tower called attention on Wednesday to an analysis written by Kyle Orton for the National Review Online, in which he highlighted evidence both of the growing ISIS presence in the Central Asian country and of the growing Iranian influence on the Taliban.
But Orton also emphasizes that the latter has been a longstanding trend, dating back at least to 2001 when Iran offered military support to the Taliban before the US invasion. In 2014, the year that Iran gave the Taliban permission to open a branch office in Mahabad, a report by the US Congress concluded that Iranian support for the Taliban was still ongoing, including the provision of training and light weapons.
Regardless of whether this influence has the same destabilizing effect on Afghanistan that it is accused of having on Iraq, it will likely have further impact on the existing conflicts. This is because Afghan Shiites and refugees have become a common source of additional personnel for Iran to send to the battlefields of Syria. An article in Gulf News detailed this trend on Wednesday, including interviews with an Afghan volunteer and the families of Afghans killed in the fighting.
Gulf News notes that this recruitment of Afghans encompasses both sincere appeals to sectarian allegiances as well as outright coercion. Refugees who are legally prevented from working in Iran have reportedly been bought off with promises of monthly salaries and permanent residency. IranWire reported last week that the system of incentives stands to become even more persuasive now that the Iranian parliament has introduced a law that rewards foreign nationals with fast-tracked Iranian citizenship in exchange for taking up arms in Iran’s proxy wars.
In light of the findings of the Wall Street Journal, it is likely that reports on these sorts of Iranian regional activities have influenced American popular views, or that they would do so if Americans were more widely aware of them. In that case, much of the American public may be inclined to agree with Daniel Pipes’ assertion that issue of Iran’s nuclear program cannot be separated from the issues of its destabilizing activities, support for terrorism, and human rights abuses.
And even to the extent that the issues are separated, other foreign policy analysts have criticized the Obama administration for giving excessive trust to the Iranian regime in light of its continued aggressive stance toward the West. These analysts, including Dennis Ross and David Petraeus, who recently co-wrote an editorial for the Washington Post, argue that Iran is all but certain to cheat on a nuclear agreement.
Thus Ross and Petraeus argue that the only way to assure that the current deal is effective at curtailing Iran’s nuclear efforts is to clearly articulate a threat of nuclear force that would definitively be employed if the Iranians were found to be rushing to obtain a nuclear weapon.