The Hill, Dec. 22, 2017 - The Obama administration blocked a highly effective interagency effort to dismantle a Hezbollah drug and money laundering enterprise to grease the skids for the nuclear deal with Iran. That’s the story Josh Meyer of Politico told in his recent well-documented, well-sourced, investigative report.
Admittedly, for those unfamiliar with the context of the Iran deal, it must sound outlandish. But for those who followed the events surrounding the Iran deal, it fits a pattern of Obama administration behavior and is entirely believable.
In 2009 President Obama outlined his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, and the centerpiece of this anti-nuclear weapon agenda was to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state. The Obama team set out to negotiate a deal that would, supposedly, roll back the nuclear program and set up a verification regime to ensure compliance.
Many Iran-watchers were skeptical, to say the least. The regime was as repressive, anti-Zionist, and supportive of Islamist militancy as it ever was. Even if the Obama diplomats could verifiably totally dismantle the nuclear program, flushing the regime with cash without requiring reform in other areas seemed dangerously foolish. And it took years of diplomatic heavy-lifting for the United States to build consensus among other nations to isolate Iran.
Sanctions may not have finally prevented Iran from stopping its nuclear program, but they were really starting to hurt the regime. After all, it was the pain from those sanctions and isolation that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.
But President Obama sought to allay concerns, insisting he was willing to walk away if the deal wasn’t good. This was quickly disproven.
For example, Iran was permitted to keep some key technology necessary for making a nuclear weapon. While only at lower levels, Iran was permitted to continue enriching uranium, an irreversible blow to what’s left of the nonproliferation regime. We were promised "anytime, anywhere" inspections, but by the time the deal was done, verification, while still hailed as the toughest verification regime in history, still only allows managed access to Iranian sites, and the agreement was written with such ambiguity as to allow the Iranians to continue to insist certain sites remain off limits.
Also, Obama officials, with great messaging discipline, insisted all Iranian malignant activity “unrelated” to the nuclear program, would be addressed in other ways, but excluded from Iran deal negotiations.
What about Iran's illicit missile program? We were told by the lead U.S. negotiator, Wendy Sherman, it would be addressed in some way, even if excluded from the terms of the Iran deal. What about Iran's terrorism? We were told terrorism-related sanctions would remain in place. Even so, John Kerry and Susan Rice admitted that the money from the Iran deal would almost certainly be used to fund Iran's continued terrorism activities.
But the Iran nuclear deal, which, even according to President Obama, would only delay Iran's breakout time by mere months, not eliminate it, was so important to the Obama agenda, that the administration insisted the scope of the deal must remain excruciatingly narrow. Officials and their friends in the media argued that tacking on other issues risked upending the Iran deal.
As the administration’s time to seal the deal dwindled away, and Congress considered levying more sanctions against Iran, those who continued to sound the alarm about the concessions were admonished to “give peace a chance.” Put another way, the Obama administration’s construction was “the Iran deal or war.”
So when Iran released American hostages in exchange for hundreds of millions (which we later found out was actually billions) of dollars, it was impossible to believe this transaction was not another concession by Obama officials if the alternative was derailing the Iran deal, aka war. And wouldn’t it be worth it to Obama officials to answer the demands of the Iranian government and release Iranian prisoners guilty of conspiring harm against America, if, according to them, the alternative was derailing the Iran deal, and therefore, war?
If Obama officials were willing to accept that money Iran would acquire due to the Iran deal would be used to fund its far-reaching terrorism operations, if Obama officials were willing to lay off Iran’s efforts to build a massive ballistic missile force, were willing to break U.S. policy about ransoms (predictably inciting Iran to nab more hostages), willing to free from prison dangerous men bent on harming the United States, the Politico report is entirely compatible with what we already know.
What’s thwarting an anti-Hezbollah effort when the alternative was derailing the Iran deal, aka war? And, to be clear, nobody believed the Obama administration was ever, ever considering war with Iran. This was just a hyperbolic construction to sell the administration’s precious deal, which legitimized Iran as an acceptable, indeed, recommended trade partner.
The Politico report is indeed a bombshell. But it’s really not surprising. The question we should all be asking at this point is, what other concessions did the Obama administration make that are out there waiting for more bold journalists to uncover?
Rebeccah L. Heinrichs is a national security fellow at Hudson Institute, a think tank promoting American leadership and global engagement, and a contributing editor at Providence Magazine