from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

"Calling Out" Iran

February 6, 2015

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The Obama administration is about to issue its formal "National Security Strategy," but recent testimony by the new Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken actually gives deep insight into what that strategy truly consists of.

Here is Blinken on how the United States deals with Iran’s aggressive misconduct, including support for terrorism:

Before I finish, I want to emphasize that, even as we engage Iran on the nuclear issue and continue to apply pressure under the existing sanctions regime, we also continue to hold it accountable for its actions on other fronts. We continue to insist that Iran release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian from detention so they can come home to their families. Likewise, we continue to call on Iran to work cooperatively with us so that we can find Robert Levinson and bring him home. This March will unfortunately mark eight years since his disappearance on Iran’s Kish Island. Secretary Kerry and Under Secretary Sherman have spoken to Iran about our concerns for the fate of these U.S. citizens as recently as last week, and will continue to do so until all of them are back home.

We also continue to raise our voice in support of the talented and brave Iranian people, and support their desire for greater respect for universal human rights and the rule of law. We have spoken up clearly and consistently against human rights violations in Iran and have called on the Iranian government to guarantee the rights and freedoms of its citizens. We have done this in reports requested by this legislative body, such as the Human Rights Report, through statements on individual cases where our voice can support those inside Iran, and via international organizations, such as our work to support the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran. We have also used our Virtual Embassy Tehran online platform to promote freedom of expression and respect for human rights, and our programming to support the rights of average citizens in Iran. Regardless of the outcome of ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, we will not relax our efforts to hold Iran accountable for its human rights violations. We will also continue to confront Iran’s destabilizing activities, promotion of sectarian divisions, and support for non-state actors and terrorists throughout the Middle East. Our positions on Palestinian terrorist groups, such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and  Lebanese Hezbollah, for example, have in no way changed – and will not change. We have very clearly and consistently spoken out against these designated foreign terrorist organizations, as well as Iran’s support for them. And we will continue to find ways to support those in the region who are working to counter the destabilizing actions of these groups – including building partner capacity – as we simultaneously reinforce the robust regional security architecture we’ve already built. Similarly, we have called out Iran for its support of the brutal regime of Bashar al-Asad in Syria.

What’s remarkable about this account of Obama policy is the verbs. We "hold Iran accountable." How do we do that? We "continue to insist." "We "continue to call on Iran." We "have spoken to Iran about our concerns." We "raise our voice." And finally, we "have called out Iran for its support of the brutal regime of Bashar al-Asad in Syria."

Fred Hof, who was for years a senior official handling Syria policy including in the Obama administration, had this to say in his blog for the Atlantic Council:

Evidently, the Obama administration believes that "calling out" Iran and counseling it on the merits of "constructive engagement in the region" are all that can reasonably be expected of the United States so long as nuclear discussions are ongoing. Presumably, the throwing of a spanner into the Assad regime’s ability to unload barrel bombs and chlorine canisters onto residential neighborhoods with absolute impunity would upset Iran, perhaps inspiring the Supreme Leader to abandon the nuclear talks and opt instead for a new wave of economic sanctions while oil prices plunge. Seen from this don’t-rock-the-boat-with-Tehran point of view, the suffering of Syrians merits a "call out" and nothing more....

President Obama has credited himself with "strategic patience." It is indeed a worthy attribute. But it has nothing to do with doing nothing in the face of mass murder, particularly when doing something—causing, for example, regime helicopters loaded with barrel bombs to fall from the sky—need not involve invasion, occupation, or even a slippery slope. Yes, the Supreme Leader will not like it. He would prefer to be called out. He has no trouble being on the receiving end of earnest, Dutch Uncle advice about avoiding disruptive policies. In the end, however, he has no problem negotiating with the P5+1 while facilitating mass murder in Syria. The United States should not have a problem negotiating with Iran while making impunity more difficult for the murderers.

Blinken’s testimony gives the lie to the ’strategic patience’ excuse, as Hof so devastatingly shows. Iran, which got away with helping kill thousands of Americans in Iraq, is now helping kill hundreds of thousands of Syrians and has sent troops to fight in Syria. It is deeply engaged in Yemen. It continues its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But don’t worry: the United States "continues to insist," we’ve "spoken to" Iran about all of this, raised our voices, and we’ve even "called out" Iran!

This administration has to date refused to provide any weaponry to Ukrainians fighting what is the very clearest Russian aggression. As I noted here yesterday, we send them blankets instead. And in the case of Iranian aggression and subversion, we call them out. We raise our voices. These are grim days to be an American ally facing an aggressive and hostile neighbor. You wait on the docks for the delivery of the latest American blankets and perhaps copies of the speeches where we "call out" the aggressor.

 

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