This month marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of Mahsa Jina Amini, the young Kurdish Iranian girl whose death launched a global movement and the first women-led revolution. The U.S. and the European Union are hoping the fires will not shift into a conflagration adding to the burden of the Russia/Ukraine war.
Indeed, the unity between the U.S. (both Republicans and Democrats) and European countries in confronting Russia has been commendable and it has delivered results. One cannot but wonder about the whereabouts of that same camaraderie in confronting Iran. The Mullahs have achieved what has escaped Putin. A strategy of divide and conquer in the Western world pays dividends.
A review of U.S.-Iran relations since the 1979 Revolution demonstrates that the U.S. has not had a consistent long-term policy on Iran. We have either had a Republican Iran policy or a Democratic one. As one congressional staffer put it, Iran policy is mostly for domestic consumption and a way for administrations and members of Congress to virtue-signal their constituents. Republicans must be uncompromising on Iran, and Democrats need to pursue negotiations at all costs. Neither side has won a trophy yet.
The last time we witnessed such a consequential standstill in the U.S. was post-WWII. In 1945, one leader, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.), the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an outspoken critic of further involvement in Europe, chose the bipartisan route. After a powerful speech on the Senate floor, he chose to cooperate with Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman on the establishment of NATO, the United Nations, the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine. Vandenberg’s famous statement that bipartisan foreign policy “simply seeks national security ahead of partisan advantage,” and politics should “stop at the water’s edge,” still resonates today.
Our current partisanship on Iran policy is an odd stance as Gallup polling consistently shows that close to 75 percent of Americans view Iran developing nuclear weapons as a “critical threat” to the U.S.: Not an important threat but a critical one. Today Americans’ support of Ukraine is around 60 percent yet only a few months ago it hovered around 45 percent.
Disagreements are a natural part of democratic policymaking. However, when Republicans and Democrats quarrel publicly, in essence, they are washing our dirty laundry in public. One crucial viewer is the Islamic Republic, an adversary who interprets the sparring as a sign of disorder in America’s house, a major weakness in the eyes of an autocratic regime. One example is the Obama administration keeping Congress out of negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and 47 Senators sending a letter to the Iranian Parliament undermining the president of the United States.
In today’s polarized political environment, the prospect of any unified policy, foreign or domestic, is grim. Iran, however, is not a hermit nation like North Korea that can be passed down from administration to administration. It is on the cusp of developing a nuclear weapon.
Since 2000, Iran has been sanctioned and re-sanctioned due to its pursuit of nuclear technology and fomenting regional mayhem. Every administration since Obama has levied anywhere between 60-75 sanctions on Iran along with five congressional statutes, 12 executive orders and four U.N. resolutions. Yet Iran is even further along in its nuclear capabilities.
JCPOA demanded that Iran maintain its enrichment at 3.67 percent. It is now enriching at 60 percent and claims that it “accidentally” hit 84 percent. It was supposed to have 5,060 centrifuges it now has almost 13,000. It only had one enrichment facility but far from the eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency built another one underground which was claimed to be a research facility. The latest IAEA quarterly report came with a dire warning that Iran’s actions and the failure of bilateral discussions “seriously affects the ability of the agency to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”
Iran’s nuclear adventurism is often blamed on the Trump administration for pulling the U.S. out of the JCPOA. Yet what some may not know is that Iran reneged on a potential deal, brokered by French President Macron in 2019. In return for remaining a nuclear-free state in perpetuity Iran could have control of its oil revenues and the sanctions would be lifted. In a recent poll by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, 85 percent of Iranian Americans do not support returning to the JCPOA. Why? Because they are familiar with the mindset and history of some Mullahs and do not regard them as reliable or honest negotiating partners.
Some analysts and reporters believe that Iran is not interested in becoming a nuclear power but rather hovering on the threshold. Dawdling on the threshold is tantamount to being a month away from becoming a nuclear state. There are 32 nations worldwide that have peaceful nuclear technology that have not “accidentally” hit 84 percent enrichment. With a population that is squarely against them, the Islamic Republic knows that nuclear capability is their ticket to longevity as they have vivid examples of the fate of other aspiring nuclear nations.
Libya gave up its nuclear technology, the Qaddafi regime fell and he was murdered. Ukraine gave up its nuclear warheads in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid and was invaded by Russia. The Kim dynasty in North Korea on the other hand, has held on to its nuclear weapons and it has been in power for six decades.
According to Politico, Vandenberg defined bipartisan foreign policy “as a consensus developed by consultation between the president, the State Department and congressional leaders from both parties.” A bipartisan long-term Iran policy can be collaboratively developed by leveraging all the tools of foreign policy including smart diplomacy, sanctions, public diplomacy with the Iranian people, negotiations with consequences, deterrence and defensive military action if necessary.
To the young Iranian population, the Achilles heel of the Islamic Republic, there are no Republicans or Democrats. They are looking for support from the United States of America, which despite its recent challenges, remains the shining beacon of freedom.
Once united on a long-term Iran policy, our leaders in Washington might offer the Islamic Republic a taste of its own medicine. They can give the “divide and conquer” strategy — on the different branches of the Iranian government — a try.
Goli Ameri is the vice chair of Freedom House and the former U.S. assistant secretary of State and U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.