Pompeo’s Iran Ultimatum Makes War More Likely
Pompeo listed 12 demands that range from Iran ending all uranium enrichment and providing anywhere, anytime access to “all sites” within the country to stopping support for Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran’s other historic partners in the Middle East. He also demanded that Iran withdraw “all forces under Iranian command” from Syria, where Iranians and Shia militias have been fighting at the request of the Damascus government.
The demands would require that the Iranian leopard not just change its spots but transform itself into a lamb, subordinated to the wishes of the U.S. and Iran’s regional rivals — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
Pompeo conceded that the demands “may seem unrealistic” but insisted, without providing any evidence, that they would achieve buy-in from U.S. allies.
Pompeo’s speech summed up everything that is wrong with the Trump administration’s handling of Iran and the nuclear deal and with the policy preferences of Iran hawks generally. The U.S. has much less leverage and virtually no international support for a more restrictive nuclear agreement, but Pompeo is demanding that Iran accept “zero enrichment” that much greater international pressure failed to get. It won’t succeed, and it is more likely to widen rifts between the U.S. and our allies in the process. Just as the Trump administration makes unrealistic, maximalist demands of North Korea, they are making equally fantastical and extreme demands of Iran. The 12 demands Pompeo lists would never be accepted by any state, much less one that has just learned that the U.S. can’t be trusted to honor its commitments, and they are reminiscent of the ultimatum that the Saudi-led bloc delivered to Qatar last year. Like the ultimatum to Qatar, this one will also backfire and produce exactly the opposite of the results that the administration says it wants.
Except for the demand to release U.S. citizens, every one of the things Pompeo calls for is a non-starter with Iran. To agree to most or all of them would be for all intents and purposes to surrender its foreign policy decision-making to Washington and U.S. clients and to abandon all of the governments and groups that have relied on its support until now. Imagine how a similar list of demands from a hostile state would be greeted in Washington and you get some idea of how ridiculous and offensive Pompeo’s speech will seem to Iran’s government and most Iranians.
Perhaps the most insulting part of Pompeo’s speech was the pretense that the administration is concerned to help the Iranian people. If that were true, the U.S. wouldn’t be piling on punishing sanctions and making unreasonable demands for Iranian surrender. The main effect of the administration’s Iran policy will be to stoke Iranian nationalism, strengthen Iran’s hard-liners, and make Tehran even more intransigent on all of the issues that Pompeo cited as problems. This is a recipe for increased tensions and increased risk of an unnecessary war with Iran and its allies, and it subordinates U.S. policy to the interests of our reckless regional clients at the expense of American interests.