Paul Ryan recently published the National Security Policy section of the House GOP’s new “A Better Way Plan” aimed at uniting the party around core policy positions in advance of the Republican National Convention on July 18-21. The national security section covers the full spectrum of U.S. foreign policy and is highly critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy achievements. Unfortunately, on U.S. policy toward Iran, the plan is riddled with both inaccuracies and misleading statements.
The document attempts to create a false dichotomy between support for diplomacy and support for the Iranian people. It accuses the administration of “continuing to side with the regime by downplaying human rights concerns for the sake of negotiating and maintaining its ill-conceived nuclear deal.” Yet support of the nuclear deal amongst the Iranian people is widespread . According to polling by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland (CISSM), four-fifths of Iranians support the JCPOA.
Instead of supporting the nuclear deal, Ryan’s plan urges that the U.S. “impose severe sanctions on Iran to punish its aggression.” Sanctions have been strongly opposed by the Iranian people as well as various human rights defenders. This should not be a surprise because the primary victims of sanctions are everyday working and middle class Iranians, not the regime. So while the document accuses the Obama administration of downplaying human right concerns, it turns around and suggests supporting a practice that human rights defenders condemn.
The policy proposal also includes an inaccurate statement conflating the Obama administration’s actions related to to the Green Movement protests of 2009 and the nuclear negotiations. According to the document, “Almost immediately after coming into office, the president faced a choice—stand with Iranians protesting in the streets, or stand aside to preserve secret talks with the regime.”
This claim is disconcertingly inaccurate. The administration did not initiate the secret channel established with the assistance of Oman until 2012, three years after the height of the Green Movement. One can argue about whether the administration should have done more to criticize the regime’s crackdown, but there is no evidence of the administration shaping its response to the Green Movement to “preserve secret talks,” because there were none to preserve.
Furthermore, the document’s assertion that “In a decade, even without Iranian cheating, the deal will put Tehran on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb” is vague and misleading. Iran will still be under rigorous restrictions blocking Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon well beyond a decade of JCPOA implementation. Many provisions extend to 15 years, such as caps on Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile. Others are indefinite, including Iran’s commitment never to pursue or obtain a nuclear weapon and the eventual ratification of the Additional Protocol.
The document also makes a highly fallacious claim regarding U.S. security priorities in the Middle East, claiming that “Iran is seeking to build a regional empire, and we must do all we can to stop it.” While Iran is involved in regional conflicts and might be called a regional power, it is far-fetched to claim that Iran seeks to establish a regional empire. Iran has no nuclear weapons in a region in which Israel is reported to have nuclear weapons, and many others states could fall under the nuclear umbrella of the United States. It is absurd to claim that a country with no second strike capability, equipped primarily with fighter-jets purchased in 1979 that, according to at least one assessment, cannot effectively defend their general airspace, is hell-bent on acquiring regional hegemony.
The House GOP national security document also laments the deterioration of transatlantic relations. However, while it encourages efforts to revive relations with Europe, the solutions set forth to undermine the Iran deal would only further alienate our European allies. Prime Minister David Cameron went so far as to make personal phone calls to various senators in January 2015 in support of the JCPOA. Our European allies are also increasingly frustrated that lingering concerns over remaining U.S. sanctions have complicated pending investments in Iran’s energy, aviation, and construction sectors. In an interview with the NY Times, Marijetje Schaake, Vice President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the United States, said, “Europe is being taken hostage by American policy. We negotiated the nuclear deal together, but now the U.S. is obstructing its execution.” Criticizing a deal which our counterparts helped to create and threatening to unravel it by increasing sanctions that could target European companies does not seem like a recipe for improving transatlantic relations but rather a plan for alienating Europe.
If you are interested in reading the House GOP’s national security plan it is available here.