It has been a long-standing U.S. policy not to negotiate with terrorists and certainly not to arm them. Nonetheless, on Sept. 16, President Obama made a presidential determination that waived Sections 40 and 40(a) of the Arms Export Control Act that he claims allows him to fund organizations — almost surely that will include terrorists — for the sake of “national security.” What prompted such an incredible finding?
Is this act merely a means to legitimize what already took place in Benghazi and Syria, or is this an action taken as a result of being outmaneuvered by Russian President Vladimir Putin over Syria’s chemical weapons? Of course, with such a finding, it paves the way for an accommodation with Iran, the world’s recognized leader of state-sponsored terrorism. In a clever, well-written op-ed article most likely polished up by Iran’s Washington lobby, newly elected Iranian President Hasan Rouhani apparently sees an opportunity to gain concessions from a weakened Mr. Obama and Iran’s sworn enemy, America.
Mr. Rouhani wrote of several tantalizing possibilities for resolution. These involve major issues, such as Iran’s nuclear-weapons program and the Syrian civil war, as well as a broad regional security arrangement, which will clearly make our allies nervous. However, Mr. Obama and his foreign-policy team will most likely find these so-called opportunities not only intriguing, but also a way to salvage his international reputation and legacy.
Certainly, we need to explore Iran’s new overtures. We know letters have been exchanged between the two presidents, but we should be very cautious and not delude ourselves over Iran’s intentions. Nothing has changed Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist principles, including the intention of eliminating our ally Israel and driving the United States out of the Middle East.
While Iran’s new president may sound more flexible and less offensive than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he must operate within the same limits set by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The supreme leader’s recent call for “heroic flexibility” should be viewed with caution and in the context of the Islamic principle of “taqiya,” lying to advance one’s objectives and the cause of Islam.
Iran clearly wants to be the dominant regional power. To raise its international status, the regime wants to be included in the Geneva talks as a key player to resolve the Syrian civil war, along with the United States and Russia. It also wants immediate relief from the crippling economic sanctions that have had a major impact on Iran’s economy. In that sense, it should be remembered that no Iranian official has ever renounced Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s goal of achieving nuclear-weapons capability.
With all the optimistic rhetoric over Iran’s new president, we should never forget Iran’s role in providing material and training support to the Sept. 11 hijackers. Iran was found guilty of providing such support by Judge George B. Daniels in New York’s District Court in December 2011, which makes particularly galling Mr. Rouhani’s comments about the United States waking up to the reality that no one is immune to terrorism.
Iran’s 34 years of war against the United States cannot be cavalierly dismissed. Iran has taken thousands of American lives, both military and civilians, plus many more permanently injured. We have positive proof of its involvement in the October 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which resulted in the loss of 241 of our finest military personnel. In view of the similarities, they most likely also planned the bombing of our Beirut embassy in April 1983 with the loss of 63 people. Nor can we forget the loss of more than 4,000 of our military personnel in Iraq and thousands more in Afghanistan owing to Iran’s direct actions and use of proxies to provide weapons, training and personnel.
The fact that the United States has failed to respond to these numerous acts of war by Iran has affected not only our credibility, but has stained our honor. Had we had the political courage to respond, we could have changed the course of history. Unfortunately as things stand, administration attempts to negotiate a solution have been viewed by Iran with disdain and as a sign of weakness. We must not further diminish our credibility and honor by making concessions to a rogue regime that has cost thousands of American lives. The honor of the United States is more important than anyone’s legacy.
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.