On Jan. 30, 2018, President Trump’s State of the Union (SOTU) address mentions Iran three times, about the same issues:
When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent. America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom. I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.
Trump held his fire for Pyongyang. Below is an edited summary from Trump’s SOTU about North Korea. He said no state had oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than Pyongyang’s, specifically stating:
“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening… We need only look at the depraved character of the [Kim Jong Un] regime to grasp the nature of the nuclear threat it might pose to America and our allies.”
The highlight of the discussion of North Korea? When Trump pointed to Ji Seong-ho, and said, “Seong-ho had traveled miles on crutches across Asia to freedom. Now he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears the most — the truth.”
The president said to Seong-ho, “I understand you still keep… [your] crutches as a reminder of how far you have come.” They became an iconic and captivating moment.
President Obama on Iran
Obama said, “We built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.”
So, there is one, and perhaps an implicit mention of Iran, in Obama’s SOTU of Jan. 13, 2016.
Obama on North Korea
On Mar. 4, 2017, in a discussion of cyberwarfare, The New York Times reported, North Korea, “pose[s] such a danger that Mr. Obama, as he left office, warned President Trump they were likely to be the most urgent problem he would confront.”
Regarding policy, relying on a “one size fits all” approach to Pyongyang could lead to disaster. A regime-change policy for Tehran might serve the U.S. interest, because Iran has a viable coalition of dissidents; the same policy could be a disaster if it were applied to Pyongyang, which lacks a self-sustaining opposition, per Tanter and Stafford on Aug. 29, 2017, in The National Interest.
Think of Vice President Mike Pence’s unwillingness to be silent on the persecution of the Iranian people by Iran’s repressive security forces. That position distinguishes Team Trump from Team Obama; it signals a willingness to stand with freedom-seeking friends in Iran during an hour of perilous danger. In this sense, you know who your friends are in harsh times.
The expansion of protests in Iran constituted a crisis for the Iranian regime and an opportunity to use the people’s resentment as leverage against it. The Obama administration squandered valuable opportunities in the past — most notably during the 2009 antigovernment protests in Iran, which were backed up by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), when Western powers turned a blind eye to the regime’s brutal crackdowns.
Now is time for Trump to break with the past and move in a new direction. What was an accelerating crisis in Iran marked an opportunity to change the Iranian regime from within. The Iranian people were in the streets to make their revolution happen and they needed the moral support of the West, particularly Washington. But our rhetoric, alone, does not suffice! Not so fast, neither military force, nor arms are needed.
The Way Forward
The most riveting moment in the Trump SOTU was when he pointed to heroes next to the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS), Melania Trump. This situation suggests three paths to the future, according to research for this post.
First, FLOTUS: Meet with President-Elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Maryam Rajavi, in an official visit to the East Wing of the White House. It would signal the tide turned against Tehran and its partner in proliferation, Pyongyang. The visit would ricochet throughout the Middle East and Asia.
Second, President Trump: Tehran is a partner in proliferation with Pyongyang, per The Daily Beast on Aug. 11, 2017; thus, focus on them as a pair. Tehran could purchase technology to build the bomb from Pyongyang and breakout from constraints of the nuclear deal sooner than Obama anticipated.
President Trump: Listen to your CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who told Fox News, “As North Korea continues to improve its ability to do longer-range missiles and to put nuclear weapons on those missiles, it is very unlikely, if they get that capability, that they wouldn't share it with lots of folks, and Iran would certainly be someone who would be willing to pay them for it.”
As CNN reports, “Iran currently possesses more ballistic missiles than any other country in the Middle East but remains dependent on foreign suppliers for missile development and production.”
Third, President Obama’s description of Iran is a “rosy scenario,” of wishful thinking that has not come to past. President Trump, continue but enhance your realistic approach — neither Iran nor North Korea will change; hence regime change from within is apropos for Tehran; and coercive diplomacy for Pyongyang.
Prof. Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR) served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Tanter is on the comprehensive list of conservative writers and columnists who appear in The Wall Street Journal, Townhall.com, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Human Events, The American Spectator, and now in Newsmax. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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