Pompeo’s Bombastic Iran Speech Reveals The Emptiness Of Trump’s Iran Strategy
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a bombastic speech on Iran yesterday that reveals just how empty and dangerous the Trump Administration's policy toward Iran actually is.
Yesterday, in what amounts to his first major policy address, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lambasted Iran and seemed to up the ante in what seems like a quickly unraveling relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic in the wake of the President’s decision to back out of the 2015 nuclear deal:
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his first major policy address to deliver a hard-line speech on Monday, in which he demanded that Iran change just about everything regarding its behavior on the world stage.
He insisted that Iran end all nuclear enrichment programs and close its heavy water reactor, saying it did not have the right to such a program. He also appealed directly to the Iranian people, suggesting they should reject the clerical government in Tehran, the capital.
“What has the Iranian revolution given to the Iranian people?” Mr. Pompeo asked at one point, and then offered an answer: “The hard grip of repression is all that millions of Iranians have ever known.”
Iran’s right to enrich uranium, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, is debatable. More than a dozen countries in the world enrich uranium, with several doing so solely for civilian purposes, such as energy generation and medical uses.
But Mr. Pompeo’s speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation was intended to throw down the gauntlet against Tehran, piling on after President Trump’s withdrawal earlier this month from the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated with world powers in 2015. While he did not directly threaten the use of military force, Mr. Pompeo said that if Iran restarts its nuclear program “we will respond.”
He also demanded that Iran admit to the military purposes of its now-moribund nuclear weapons program, end its support of Hezbollah, Hamas and Yemen’s Houthis, and withdraw all of its forces from Syria.
“You know, the list is pretty long,” Mr. Pompeo conceded. But, he added, “we didn’t create the list. They did.”
More from The Washington Post:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday launched a sweeping broadside against the Iranian government, vowing to use all U.S. economic and military might to destroy its economy and “crush” its operatives and proxies around the world.
In his first major foreign policy address as secretary of state, Pompeo listed a dozen demands, an agenda encompassing Iran’s foreign ventures as well as its nuclear and missile programs. If Iran agreed to those demands, he said, the United States would lift all sanctions, reestablish diplomatic relations with Tehran and provide it access to advanced technology.
Pompeo said he will work with the Defense Department and regional allies — a group that includes Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states — to “deter Iranian aggression” in the region, including at sea and in cyberspace.
“We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region,” he said in a speech in Washington at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank whose ideas have been embraced by the Trump administration. “We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyberactivity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and crush them. Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promptly rejected Pompeo’s assertion.
“Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?” he was quoted saying by the Iranian news agency ILNA. “The world today does not accept America to decide for the world, as countries are independent.”
Declaring the era of U.S. domination “over,” Rouhani added, “We will continue our path with the support of our nation.”
The suggestion of a further U.S. military role in the region was striking, since President Trump has said he seeks to draw down the U.S. troop presence in Syria, where Iran provides training and arms to militiamen.
Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters the military is looking at potential actions to push back against Iran’s regional military influence as part of a larger U.S. government response. He said the United States would take “all necessary steps” to contain Iran, but he declined to provide specifics.
“After our sanctions come into full force, it will be battling to keep its economy alive,” he added. “Iran will be forced to make a choice — either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.”
Many European officials, including those who negotiated the Iran agreement alongside the United States, have chafed at the Trump administration’s positions on Iran, the Paris climate accord, moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and trade tariffs.
“With friends like that, who needs enemies,” European Council President Donald Tusk groused recently.
The new secretary of state, now in his fourth week in office, made clear that the United States is prepared to square off with Europe, using secondary sanctions against companies that do business in Iran.
“We understand our re-imposition of sanctions and the coming pressure campaign on the Iranian regime will pose financial and economic difficulties for a number of our friends,” Pompeo said. “But you should know that we will hold those doing prohibited business in Iran to account.
“The list of requirements of the Iranians asks for everything but conversion to Christianity and reads more like a demand for unconditional surrender than an actual attempt at negotiation,” said Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Pompeo said the administration is seeking a full treaty with Iran, not just “fixes” to the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Rather, he demanded Iran’s complete capitulation on 12 points. Judging by its reaction to similar proposals made previously, Tehran is likely to reject most, if not all.
Among the items on Pompeo’s wish list is a full acknowledgment of Iran’s previous attempts to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran has denied ever wanting to build nuclear arms. U.S. negotiators tried unsuccessfully to get Iran to admit it tried to build one in the early 2000s.
Other demands the Iranians are unlikely to go along with include stopping uranium enrichment and ballistic missile tests, and allowing international inspectors access to all sites, including military locations where critics suspect clandestine research. Currently, inspectors must outline the basis for their suspicions.
All of this comes in the context, of course, of President Trump’s decision earlier this month to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) after hinting that this is exactly what he would do both during the campaign and since becoming President last January. At that time, the question that most of the world was asking was what would happen next. At least initially, the Europeans, Iranians, and other parties involved in negotiating the deal back in 2015. So far, at least, the desire on the part of all of these parties has been to do their best to keep the deal in place. America’s European allies, for example, have made it clear that they will not join the United States in backing out of the deal and that they would resist any efforts by the United States to sanction European companies doing business with Iran that is permitted under the JCPOA but which may violate whatever sanctions the United States seeks to reimpose. Russia and China, meanwhile, are proceeding forward as if nothing has changed and are likely to resist American efforts to reimpose sanctions or reopen negotiations regarding the JCPOA. Instead, they are likely to step in and grab the business opportunities that withdrawal has now blocked American companies from making, such as the $39 billion dollars in new aircraft purchases from Boeing and Airbus that are now basically ended because of the President’s decision. Iran, meanwhile, has so far reacted to the decision by seeking to keep the deal together as best as possible even while the official statements from the regime blasting the American decision.
Notwithstanding all of this, Pompeo’s speech indicates quite clearly the direction that the Trump Administration intends to go when it comes to Iran policy, and it’s a direction that is fraught with danger, unlikely to accomplish anything, and more likely to ramp up the threats that the United States and its allies already face in the Middle East and around the world. While the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran, those sanctions will not have nearly the same impact that they would have if they were joined by our international allies. Additionally, it’s clear that the Iranians will not return to the negotiating table at least in the short term, especially since it seems apparent from the President’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA that, at least under this President, the United States cannot be trusted to keep the agreements it enters into. Furthermore, if Pompeo’s action is a signal that the United States is committed to the rather idiotic and ultimately doomed strategy of regime change in Tehran, then the post-withdrawal strategy of the U.S. is likely to strengthen the hand of hardliners in Tehran who opposed the efforts of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to normalize relations with the West in general and the United States in particular. Needless to say, the prospect of these hardliners gaining ground in the internal battles inside the Islamic Republic is not something we should be trying to actively encourage. Unless that is, one is openly hoping for heightened tensions that could devolve into a diplomatic and military crisis that is entirely unnecessary.
The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller commented on Pompeo’s speech on Twitter:
Bottom line on Pompeo’s “No More” Iran speech – a long-term approach –largely via economic pressure to change Iran’s regime not its behavior WITHOUT means to do so. Fascinating that once again no reference or specifics to rolling back Iran’s influence in Syria/Iraq/Lebanon.
— Aaron David Miller (@aarondmiller2) May 21, 2018
When you don’t have a policy, George Shultz used to say Administrations give speeches. Trump has an Iran policy; but much of it is magical thinking geared not for planet earth; but to a galaxy far far away where normal laws of political gravity do not apply.
— Aaron David Miller (@aarondmiller2) May 22, 2018
Jonathan Cristol, Levermore Research Fellow at Adelphi University, meanwhile, calls Pompeo’s speech “complete fantasy”:
The new deal on the table is a dream come true for many globally important figures: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Mohammed Ali Jafari; National Security Advisor John Bolton; and the Mujahideen-e-Khalq cult.
Under this strategy, articulated by Pompeo, the US enacts a new round of crippling sanctions that will have Iran “battling to keep its economy alive.” Then Iran peacefully gives into US demands and changes the very nature of its regime.
It’s all so easy it’s a wonder no previous president thought of it.
Iran just needs to release American hostages, end its ballistic missile program, withdraw from Syria, end support for the Houthis in Yemen, stop its support for Hezbollah and all other terrorist groups and end its “threatening behavior” in the region.
Of course, these are all laudable goals. The United States and the Middle East would be much better off if Iran gave in to America’s demands. But foreign policy should be rooted in reality — not fantasy. Had the US remained in the JCPOA and built up trust with Iran over time, perhaps we could have reached agreements on other issues. But the withdrawal from JCPOA effectively nukes any chances for further agreements with Iran.
Pompeo is effectively calling for “self regime-change” in Iran. This will not happen. He has provided no reason why Iran would acquiesce to America’s demands. Doing so would only weaken Iran’s ability to confront the United States and would require Iran to place greater trust in Washington than did the JCPOA, which the US violated.
Pompeo has succeeded only in providing the Supreme Leader with the evidence he needs to show his people that the US really does mean Iran harm.
And Daniel Larison adds this:
Pompeo’s speech summed up everything that is wrong with the Trump administration’s handling of Iran and the nuclear deal and with the policy preferences of Iran hawks generally. The U.S. has much less leverage and virtually no international support for a more restrictive nuclear agreement, but Pompeo is demanding that Iran accept “zero enrichment” that much greater international pressure failed to get. It won’t succeed, and it is more likely to widen rifts between the U.S. and our allies in the process. Just as the Trump administration makes unrealistic, maximalist demands of North Korea, they are making equally fantastical and extreme demands of Iran. The 12 demands Pompeo lists would never be accepted by any state, much less one that has just learned that the U.S. can’t be trusted to honor its commitments, and they are reminiscent of the ultimatum that the Saudi-led bloc delivered to Qatar last year. Like the ultimatum to Qatar, this one will also backfire and produce exactly the opposite of the results that the administration says it wants.
Except for the demand to release U.S. citizens, every one of the things Pompeo calls for is a non-starter with Iran. To agree to most or all of them would be for all intents and purposes to surrender its foreign policy decision-making to Washington and U.S. clients and to abandon all of the governments and groups that have relied on its support until now. Imagine how a similar list of demands from a hostile state would be greeted in Washington and you get some idea of how ridiculous and offensive Pompeo’s speech will seem to Iran’s government and most Iranians.
Larison and Cristol are exactly right, of course, but the important point to keep in mind here is that the Trump Administration doesn’t really care how this rhetoric plays in Iran, in Europe, or in the rest of the world. As French President Emmanual Macron accurately put it at the end of his meetings in late April with President during which he tried to save the nuclear deal, the main reason the President withdrew from the JCPOA is to satisfy domestic political forces. In addition to that, it seems clear that the White House seems more concerned with pleasing so-called allies in the Middle East such as Benjamin Netanyahu and the corrupt leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates than they are with the national interests of the United States. Given that, and assuming that Pompeo’s speech is an indication of the future direction of American policy on Iran, which seems like a safe bet, things are likely to get worse before they get better.