President Obama is delivering his eighth and final address to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, at a time when many are questioning the efficacy of his foreign policy initiatives. Tensions are still running high in the Middle East, particularly in the Persian Gulf, after Iran threatened to shoot down two U.S. Navy spy planes flying over international waters last week.
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Acts of aggression and provocation have been on the rise as the hostile nation flexes its military muscle in a show of strength against the United States, raising questions about Tehran’s diplomatic intentions.
At a State Department briefing last week, deputy spokesman Mark Toner admitted to FOX News’ James Rosen that Iran’s behavior has worsened since the nuclear agreement was signed.
“As much as we would like to see Iran's behavior change in the region, we've not seen a significant shift,” Toner said when Rosen asked about Iran’s increasing aggression since the accord went into effect. After Rosen asked him to clarify, Toner responded, “I don't have all the facts and figures in front of me, but we have seen some disturbing… trends.”
This begs the question, has the Obama administration’s attempt at détente actually emboldened the world’s leading state sponsor of terror?
“Absolutely, there’s no question about it,” Lt. General Tom McInerney tells FOXBusiness.com. “[The deal] has given them confidence since they’ve dealt with this administration, and how desperate the President was to get an agreement like this… They’re publicly humiliating him.”
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The Iranians received a windfall of money when the agreement was enacted. The deal lifted sanctions on the oil-producing regime, and unfroze $150 billion in Iranian assets. Not to mention the $1.7 billion in cash the Obama administration sent to Iran earlier this year, $400 million of which coincided with the release of four American prisoners.
According to former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army General Jack Keane, the nuclear deal did something much worse than simply open Iran’s financial flood gates. It gave the rogue nation credibility on the global stage.
“They have a renewed confidence… the nuclear deal has legitimized the regime… Iran is legitimized in the international community,” the retired four-star Army general tells FOXBusiness.com.
But what does Iran hope to gain from brazenly challenging U.S. armed forces?
Keane believes the goal is regional hegemony in the Middle East: “Their overall goal is strategic; to dominate the region and spread the Islamic Revolution. The means to do that is to drive the United States out of the region and therefore … [the] Sunni states would be considerably more exposed.”
Iran seeks to weaken U.S. credibility in the region since the Sunni Arabs already see the current administration as an unreliable ally.
If the Iran agreement has instigated this resurgence of bad behavior, is there reason to worry that Iran will cheat on the restrictions imposed by the nuclear deal?
General Keane says if they haven’t broken the accord already, they will soon; “they will not wait 15 years to get a nuclear weapon.”
Lt. General McInerney believes the Iranians are already cheating; Tehran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program violates a U.N. Resolution, it purchased the S-300 Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system from the Russians which violated an adjunct clause of the deal, and it is now looking to buy advanced fighter planes, also from Russia. McInerney adds we also don’t know whether Iran is following the enrichment protocol.
“This nuclear agreement should have been a treaty, we have never in our history, and I have been a part of them, had a nuclear agreement that was not a treaty and voted by the Senate,” McInerney notes.
A nuclear Tehran would be a serious threat to global stability because nations like Iran cannot be expected to act in accordance with the principles of mutually assured destruction; the idea that a state will not deploy a nuclear warhead for fear of retaliation in equal, if not greater, strength.
“Iran’s leaders historically have extolled suicide bombers and given the fact that they see suicide attacks as an acceptable military technique… if they applied that kind of thinking towards nuclear weapons, then mutually assured destruction may be less of a deterrent and more of a goad,” James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation, tells FOXBusiness.com.
Iran is a unique actor because of its vast ties to terror groups. It gives more than $300 million annually to Hamas, contributes a significant portion of Hezbollah’s funding, and provides an estimated $6 billion per year to the Syrian Regime.
“The great danger we face [with Iran] is nuclear terrorism,” explains Lt. General McInerney. “Those weapons will end up in U.S. cities.”
The fact that we are facing the risk of nuclear terrorism is a failure of the Obama administration’s policies, explains General Keane.
“[President Obama’s] seminal foreign policy objective has been this nuclear deal with the Iranians in the hope that we would have an overall rapprochement with Iran; that they would join the community of nations and behave as a responsible country. The naiveté of that is astounding.”
As President Obama prepares to exit the White House, does either of the candidates that will assume office in November have the foreign policy chops to crack down on a truculent Iran?
Phillips believes Hillary Clinton would continue the current administration’s policies of diplomacy.
“She was present at the creation of the Obama administration’s Iran policy, and she never really criticized it when she was in office or out of office… I don’t think in terms of policy there would be that much difference.”
Trump has said he would renegotiate the Iran deal, but has been tight-lipped about specifics.
Still, Lt. General McInerney has hope that Trump would offer a change of pace.
“I believe that he will reinforce the peace through strength, and attempt to get the balance using the allies we have in the Middle East to counter to this Iranian crescent that’s sweeping across the region. I do believe that he will contain it,” McInerney says.
While General Keane advises reengaging the Middle East, strengthening relationships and potentially forming an “Arab NATO,” McInerney tells FOXBusiness.com that a regime change in Iran is the only way to contain its aggression.
No matter who wins this election, one thing is clear; he or she will have a gargantuan task navigating the turbulent relationship with an increasingly hostile Iranian regime.