By Jed Babbin
January 7, 2018
The Iranian election of 2009, re-electing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was so obviously fixed that the results ignited a near-revolt that threatened the terror-sponsoring regime of the ayatollahs.
The Green Movement, led by prominent Iranians including former premier Hossein Mousavi, seriously threatened the regime that has been an implacable enemy of the United States since it came to power in 1979. The rebellion’s failure was assured by President Obama.
Instead of helping the protesters, Mr. Obama criticized them, saying that they didn’t represent “fundamental change.” He spoke meekly, saying that, “The world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was.”
Mr. Obama did far worse. We know, from Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon’s book, “The Iran Wars,” that the CIA approached Mr. Obama seeking permission to engage in a secret campaign to help the Greens overthrow the ayatollahs. Mr. Obama ordered the CIA to sever contacts with that movement and not take action against the Iranian regime. The Green Movement was suppressed.
In his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama spoke often of his willingness to negotiate with Iran. His administration first made contact with Iran in 2011. As those negotiations proceeded for the next four years, Mr. Obama feared negative publicity about Iran that could have interfered. To minimize it, he stopped a long-standing DEA investigation called “Operation Cassandra” investigating drug trafficking and money laundering by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist network that governs Lebanon.
In September 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry signed the Iran nuclear weapons deal. It was, as President Trump has said repeatedly, the worst possible deal. Not only did it enable Iran to continue its nuclear weapons development in secret, it reduced or eliminated the international sanctions that forced it to the bargaining table.
Iran, like every other despotism, is neither monolithic nor stable. On Dec. 28, 2017, massive protests broke out across Iran threatening the ayatollah’s regime. This time the protesters are demonstrating against unemployment, a weak economy, the corruption of the regime and its military adventurism in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.
Some protesters have chanted “death to Khamenei,” the ruling ayatollah, and have attacked Basij militiamen sent out to quash the protests, both unheard of even in the 2009 nascent rebellion.
These events give Mr. Trump the opportunity to remedy his predecessor’s mistakes. He can, and should, seize that opportunity quickly.
President Trump has already done better than his predecessor. On Jan. 1 he tweeted, “Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”
Iran’s enmity toward us is no less than it was in 2009. Its sponsorship of Islamic terrorism across the globe has, if anything, increased. The president can, and should, do a lot more than engage in a Twitter exchange with current Iranian President Rouhani.
There will be escalating violence against the Iranian protesters. The regime’s police and Basij militia have already killed dozens. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s military arm, is likely to soon move against the protesters. Many more will die, probably resulting in the complete suppression of the current protests.
But as these protests and the Green Movement of 2009 proved, the ayatollahs’ regime is vulnerable. Regardless of what happens to the Iranian protesters in the next weeks, Mr. Trump needs to act decisively.
What Mr. Obama forbade in 2009 Mr. Trump should authorize in 2018. The CIA will have plans to fund and help the opposition organize fomenting revolution in Iran to oust the ayatollahs and return Iran to a semblance of freedom. That covert action can be authorized by a secret “presidential determination,” which Mr. Trump should sign as soon as possible.
Later this month, Mr. Trump will again face the problem of certifying Iran’s compliance with Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal. Last October he refused to do that. Now he can do more.
Mr. Trump again said, correctly, that the deal as one of the worst and one-sided deals America has ever made. This month, he will be strongly advised against revoking the deal by a host of senators, diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, as well, in all likelihood, by his national security adviser.
Those opposing revocation of the deal will argue that the “international community” stands behind it, pointing to the U.N. Security Council’s action approving the deal. Mr. Obama substituted that action for ratification by the senate, which would have made it a treaty. The Security Council’s action neither binds Mr. Trump nor has any legal effect under U.S. law.
Mr. Obama’s deal was not only the worst deal he could have made. It was — like his refusal to authorize the CIA to topple the regime and his order stopping the DEA’s Operation Cassandra — an action directly in contravention of our most important national security interests.
By revoking Mr. Obama’s deal, Mr. Trump can both take strong action in our national security interests and pressure our allies to open their eyes to one of the gravest dangers we all face. It’s time for him to do so.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defence in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”