Analysis: Trump V. Obama – the carrot and the stick – which is working on Iran?

Obama and Trump took opposite approaches to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Is one working?

By Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons has been a top foreign policy issue for the Trump administration and one might say the Obama administration before it — although the two have approached the problem from opposite polls.

President Obama embraced a carrot approach. He negotiated a generous agreement with the Iranian regime in 2015.

President Trump wields a big stick. In May of last year, he dropped out of the nuclear deal, which he described as an “embarrassment,” saying it only kept Iran from nuclear weapons for a short time. He reinstated sanctions, squeezing the Islamic Republic politically and financially in order to bring it into line.

Proponents of the Iran deal like former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry argue that the agreement did stop Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. He argues that the deal curbs the country’s nuclear enrichment and monitors the regime’s nuclear activities through inspections.

The deal’s detractors say the picture looks far less rosy in practice, noting that inspections are meaningless since they require prior Iranian permission, giving Tehran the time to prepare, that is to say, cover up any evidence before inspections can take place.

Delay isn’t prevention

Trump’s point, that the deal postpones rather than neutralizes Iran’s quest for nuclear weaponry through its sunset clauses, is in fact the main weakness of the agreement. Even Obama admitted that there is nothing preventing Tehran from renewing its uranium enrichment once the deal expires in 2025.

It’s for this reason that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that instead of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons quest, the deal actually paves the path for Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Carrot or stick? No one questions that Trump’s sanctions are taking a bite out of the Iranian economy. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani admits as much. Setting aside for the moment the issue of its nuclear aspirations, a strong argument can be made for the benefits to the Western world of this policy, given the fact that Iran spends a whopping $7 billion funding terror activities, something which the Obama deal did nothing to address.

While opponents of Trump’s policies may blame him for Iran’s aggressive behavior since he pulled out of the deal, there’s nothing to suggest that the Ayatollahs ever turned over a new leaf. Quite to the contrary, they continued their hostile actions even after the deal. Over 200 Israeli sorties into Syria since 2017 is ample evidence of that fact. The Jewish State must constantly fight off Iranian attempts to establish its ‘land bridge’ to the Mediterranean, something Israeli defense experts all agree must never be allowed to happen.

Trump’s outside pressure has also stepped up internal domestic pressure on Iran. Protests by everyday Iranian citizens against the difficult economic conditions have been ongoing since April 2018. Anything that increases the chances for regime change in a state which prioritizes terrorism over the economic well-being of its citizens should be actively encouraged.

Trump’s approach, which punishes Iran’s aggression, may very well bear fruit. There is a precedent. His approach resembles that of President Ronald Reagan against the Soviet regime in the 1980s. The Soviet regime was weaker than it appeared, but it needed a push. Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting it in an arm’s race worked. The Soviet Union collapsed under the financial strain.

The Islamist regime, too, will not go quietly into that good night. It, too, needs a push. Trump’s sanctions may provide it. Like yesterday’s Soviet regime, today’s Iran is overstretched, deals with an unhappy populace and faces an economy in free fall.

The Ayatollahs, like the Soviets, aren’t capable of taking on America. They may spout threats but financial and political  pressure will keep them focusing on survival, giving them little time to pursue their global Islamist ambitions.

That is something that should be devoutly wished by America, Israel, Iran’s neighbors and the Iranian people thirsting for freedom and opportunity.