As I watched President Obama’s pitiful press conference today where he discussed the plot revealed this week to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by bombing a Washington, DC restaurant, I could not help but think about what the U.S response would be if we had a leader in the White House with real resolve like President Ronald Reagan.
Let me state up front that I have been skeptical about this case. Although Iran has sponsored terrorist acts before and provided weapons to insurgent groups to kill American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has not engaged in terrorist missions as sloppy and reckless as this one. However, the Obama administration appears to have convinced congressmen on both sides of the aisle of involvement in the plot by Iran’s senior leaders, and that’s good enough for me. This is an example of why our nation needs effective congressional oversight of intelligence.
Iranian officials must be laughing on the floor that the president plans to respond to this incident by implementing “the toughest sanctions yet” and to prosecute those involved. Iran knows very well that the U.S. has no trade relations with it and we have already twisted diplomats’ arms off to pass sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Moreover, Iran has savvy diplomats who will plead innocence or quietly assert that rogue elements were behind the plot. Tougher sanctions in the UN Security Council are out because Russia and China are certain to continue to defend Iran with their vetoes. Besides, the UN did not sanction Iran for sending snipers into Syria to help the Assad regime kill anti-government demonstrators, so why would it take action now?
Of course President Obama and Vice President Biden have stated that “no option is off the table,” to imply that U.S. military action against Iran is a possibility. No one, especially the Iranians, believe this.
This terrorist incident is a grave violation of international protocol and deserves a robust Reagan-esque response until Iran provides the United States with a full explanation, an apology, and all those involved are held accountable. These responses should include:
1. Immediately expel all Iranians from Iran’s large mission to the UN in New York and all Iranian UN employees in New York.
This will immediately benefit U.S. security since almost all Iranian diplomatic and UN personnel are spies. President Reagan did this in the mid-1980s when he expelled hundreds of Soviets from their New York UN mission and the UN Secretariat staff for spying. This will get the world’s attention and make it clear that Iran has crossed a line of modern diplomacy and is not entitled to any diplomatic privileges in the United States. The Obama administration should also agree to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s proposal to close the Iranian interest section in Washington.
2. The United States should press its allies to cut the size of Iranian embassies, starting with suspected Iranian intelligence officers.
3. The states of New York and New Jersey should refuse to allow Iranian diplomatic aircraft to land at airports in their states if the Obama administration refuses to expel Iranian diplomats and UN personnel from New York.
There is precedent for this: both states closed their airports to Soviet flights after a Soviet fighter shot down Korean Air flight 007 on September 1, 1983, killing 283 people, to prevent Soviet diplomats from attending that fall’s UN General Assembly session.
4. The United States must work with all its friends and allies to place strict travel restrictions on all senior Iranian leaders believed to be involved in this plot.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should no longer be allowed to travel to any U.S. friend or ally if he was responsible or involved in the DC terror plot.
5. America and its allies should make it clear that it will no longer allow any ships, including from China or North Korea, to transport missile parts or other WMD technology to Iran.
Ships suspected of carrying such cargoes to Iran will be forcibly boarded or disabled at sea.
6. If an Iranian terrorist plot results in loss of life or injury to U.S. or allied citizens, the United States must act swiftly by bombing Iranian military and leadership targets
like President Reagan did after Libya bombed a Berlin disco in 1986. Iran’s nuclear facilities – should also be taken out.
President Obama asserted today that his administration has done a better job than the Bush administration on Iran, claiming that when he came to office, Iran was able to play countries against each other and avoid isolation and that it has been his administration that succeeded in unifying the world to take tough action against Iran. Unfortunately, the president’s claim is completely false.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. The Obama administration came into office with a naïve diplomatic strategy that the Iranians took advantage of from day one. When the Iranian regime harshly cracked down against Iranian demonstrators after the June 2009 elections, France, not the United States, led the charge in condemning the violence because Obama officials were still being strung along by Iranian officials on holding talks about their nuclear program. And in June 2010, Congress passed tough sanctions against Iran on a bipartisan basis over the strenuous objections by the Obama administration which was still concerned about offending Iranian officials and discouraging them from participating in diplomatic talks.
It is worth noting here that there have been no successful talks on Iran’s nuclear program since President Obama came to office, its nuclear program has been significantly accelerated, and a new covert nuclear facility was discovered.
The weakness and vacillation of the Obama administration on Iran may have led Iranian officials to conclude that they would suffer no serious consequences if their fingerprints on the DC terrorist plot were discovered. It therefore is time for the president to reverse course and adopt a strenuous and unambiguous response worthy of President Ronald Reagan who also faced challenges from grossly illegal and terrorist actions by nation-states while he was in office. More vacillation, delay and pointless UN statements by this administration will only telegraph a message of weakness to state sponsors of terror and terrorist groups.
Now is time for President Obama to emulate President Reagan and demonstrate American strength and resolve.
Fred Fleitz is Managing Editor of LIGNET.com, a new Washington, DC-based intelligence analysis and forecasting service. Click here to read LIGNET’s latest analysis of this issue.
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