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Commentary: Trump, Tehran and the failure of the Iran Deal

Iran protests spread quickly

It's the first day back at work in 2018 for us pundit types, and already one of last year's biggest memes is back too, courtesy of the Iran protests: #ThatsHowYouGetTrump.

The premise of the meme is that, while intellectual elites might be smart in a general way about broad political issues, they failed to see their practical impact on real people—particularly blue-collar, lower-middle-class people—here at home.  So, for example, while elites write 5,000 word articles about the evils of building a border wall, many Americans are more moved by stories like the shooting of Kate Steinle, allegedly carried out by an illegal immigrant, or the diversity lottery terrorist who hit New York City on Halloween.  

On foreign policy, President Obama offered a nuanced argument for refusing to back up his "red line" on Syrian use of chemical weapons against children, while President Trump later offered arguments—just a missile barrage that so far has brought the attacks to an end

And so it is with the street protests in Iran, a story that's impossible to view apart from the Iran Deal, the centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy.

The anti-regime protests, the Rouhani government's violent crackdown and the resulting deaths all feed the notion that liberal elites have "an inability to see the forest through the trees," as Mideast analyst Michael Rubin puts it—on Iran, or on the world as a whole. It's another argument for the pro-Trump view that, while Barack Obama had a patina of egghead-ism and elegance, the current president at least knows the good guys from the bad guys.

And for most Americans, Iran has long been the bad guys. More than 80 percent of Americans have had an unfavorable view of Iran for decades, with more than 70 percent consistently describing its Islamist government as a "critical threat" to the US.

And with good reason. After all, the Iranian regime has:

·      Funded Hezbollah terrorists.

·      Backed the chemical-weapon using Assad regime in Syria. 

·      Humiliated US sailors when a damaged ship drifted into Iranian waters.

·      Repeatedly tested ballistic missile technology in violation of UN resolutions

And they've done all this after striking the Iran Deal with President Obama. No wonder most Americans opposed the deal at the time (though support has picked up since Trump took office, likely a symptom of anti-Trump partisanship). In other words, this is how the Iranians behave when you're nice to them.

As former Ambassador John Bolton wrote on the one-year anniversary of the Iran Deal: "Tehran has disproved any idea that acceding to its nuclear demands would cause basic shifts in its international conduct." Obama defenders argue that changing their behavior was never the goal, it was merely, as President Obama put it when he announced the agreement, "preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This deal does exactly that."  

Except it doesn't. The Iran Deal allows Iran to do whatever it wants when restrictions "sunset" in seven years.  In the meantime, Iran has rejected "any time, anywhere" inspections that were promised by the Obama administration and continues to test new, more advanced centrifuges. As a result, says Michael Rubin, "Iran would have access to an industrial-scale nuclear program, fully-funded, with few restrictions and the most advanced centrifuges as soon as the sunset clauses within the [Iran Deal] came into effect."  

That's bad. What's worse is recent reporting of what it cost America to make Obama's deal in the first place.  In 2016, many Americans were horrified to learn that the Obama administration had secretly flown pallets of cash—literally millions of dollars— to the Iranians as part of a prisoner swap to sweeten the deal for Iran. Dangerous actors from the Iranian regime were either released or had their criminal cases dropped, along with a total payout of $1.7 billion in contested money, in exchange for the release of four Americans wrongly held by the Iranian regime.

Since then, Politico has reported that the Obama administration shut down an investigation into drug dealing and gun running by Hezbollah—Iran's terrorist allies—in the lead up to the Iran Deal. Obama officials acknowledge that cases were dropped but deny that these decision were in any way linked to appeasing Iran. Members of Congress are now calling for an investigation.

The American people now see the same regime that the Obama administration strengthened shooting its own people in the streets. The average American never would have trusted the Iranians, and they know Donald Trump agrees.  

When Obama administration smart guys like Ben Rhodes and John Kerry describe Trump as a simpleton, many Trump supporters would agree: Simple, yes. But right. As opposed to smart but wrong. That's the political force Trump has tapped into.

Interestingly, the protesters in Iran appear to have a similar view.  Among the slogans reportedly being shouted in the streets are "Let go of Syria. Put your thoughts on us," "Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, We Will Give Our Lives to Iran," and "We are Iranians, we don't worship Islamism." These protesters hoped the financial benefits of the Iran Deal would reach them. Instead, the regime continues to fund terrorism abroad and their citizens are angry. You could almost translate their message to "Make Iran Great Again." 

Betting on Iran abandoning terror or becoming an ally was always a bad bet. Barack Obama and the Washington elites made it. And #ThatsHowYouGetTrump.