Iran is not a victim
Originally published in the Washington Examiner on January 8, 2020.
After almost a decade as an undercover officer in the CIA serving in the Middle East and South Asia, I never thought I would see the Iranian government be able to manipulate members of Congress, Democratic presidential candidates, and the Western media.
Qassem Soleimani was the head of the most dangerous and well-armed terrorist organization in the world. Taking him out was an appropriate response after all the Iranian government and its proxies have done over the past few months, and it was a significant blow to the Iranian regime’s ability to conduct future terrorist attacks.
Soleimani was not going through the Baghdad airport on the way to a holiday vacation. He was in Iraq to coordinate attacks on American interests and our allies. When you run a terrorist organization, this is what can happen to you: You are brought to justice for the death toll you have inflicted on innocent people. Hiding behind the uniform of your government does not change the fact that you are a terrorist.
To my colleagues condemning this decision: We cannot forget that Iran is the culprit, not the victim.
It is still the world's top state sponsor of terrorism and has killed hundreds of thousands, including U.S. troops and more than 1,500 of its people for peacefully protesting. The Iranian government has been at war with the United States for more than 40 years, since it stormed our embassy in Iran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
The Iranian regime, not the U.S., is responsible for escalating tensions. If the Iranian government wants to rejoin the international community, it must do a few simple things: stop killing American citizens and our allies; stop lying about its nuclear program; stop using terrorism and coercion to prevent the people of Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Afghanistan from choosing their future; and stop murdering your citizens for peacefully protesting.
No one wants another war in the Middle East, and under no circumstances should we or our allies bomb cultural sites in Iran or anywhere — our quarrel is with the Iranian government, not the Iranian people or Persian culture. However, we cannot give the Iranian regime cover for further aggression, and unfortunately, this is not the first time we have been here.
As I said this past summer, Congress’s inability to separate our opposition to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the threats posed by the Houthis, Iranian military, and terrorists in Yemen sent a mixed message to the Iranian government. When Iranian officials fail to receive international condemnation for their actions, and instead can spew disinformation during interviews with Western journalists, we are sending the Iranian government the wrong message.
Why are interviewers of Iranian officials not asking hard questions such as these: Why did your regime murder 1,500 of your unarmed citizens who were peacefully protesting? Why did your regime use Kataib Hezbollah to attack the U.S. Embassy in Iraq?
Tehran will be responsible for any further escalation of tensions in the region. Instead of giving tacit approval for the Iranian government to retaliate, I wish my colleagues would focus their efforts on letting the Iranian government know that no elected official in America is supportive of its behavior. Failing to criticize or even publicly question its activities can be viewed as supporting these activities, and that is the last message we want to give to its tyrannical regime and the rest of its forces.
I also want to ask my colleagues condemning the decision to kill Soleimani: What is the alternative? Do nothing and fail to protect American lives and our shared interests with our Sunni Arab and Israeli partners? Let our embassy get attacked once more? Open our troops up to further attacks? To not support the Iranian people in their quest for freedom?
Is the alternative something worse than doing nothing? Appeasing the Iranian government by sitting down with it after it has increased attacks on civilian maritime traffic, civilian energy infrastructure, civilians protesting in their country, American military technology, and U.S. diplomatic facilities?
When President Hassan Rouhani was first elected in 2013, Iran had been crippled by international sanctions and sought out negotiations with the U.S. The resulting Iran deal lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on the Iran nuclear program, but it failed to address Iran’s conventional missile program and support for terrorism. In recent years, we have seen the consequences of that omission: rebels in Yemen launching rocket attacks on civilians, Iranian forces supporting terrorism and moving closer to Israel’s borders in Syria, and a campaign of assassination and intimidation of dissidents across Europe.
Just as Britain and France thought in September 1938 that the Munich Agreement, which gave legitimacy to Hitler’s annexation of the German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia, would stop Hitler’s reign of terror against its neighbors, I fear that some Americans and Europeans are blind to the reality that appeasing Iran will only make future conflict and bloodshed more likely.
The U.S. should not and cannot deal with Iran alone. I hope now that the Iranian regime has made it clear that it will enrich uranium without any limits, violating the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, and our European partners will work with us to reinstate snap-back sanctions and treat the ayatollahs as the pariahs they are.