He could have talked about threats from China or Russia. He could have weighed in on the battle for the GOP presidential nomination. He could have said just about anything and people would be interested to hear it.
But in his first public speech since disappearing from Washington’s political scene four months ago, former House Speaker John Boehner decided instead to focus exclusively on one issue: Iran.
In a speech Friday at the Mayflower Hotel, he hammered the Obama administration for striking last summer’s nuclear accord and declared outright that the elections currently taking place in the Islamic republic are nothing but “a phony attempt to prop up an ailing regime.”
“The American people need to be reminded about the threat posed to the world by the regime in Iran, a regime that in spite of the deal brokered by the [Obama] administration, continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions and continues to finance terrorist activities,” Mr. Boehner said at an event hosted by Iranian opposition activists.
“The Iranian people need to hear a message as well,” the longtime Ohio Republican said. “They need to hear that the people of the United States stand with them, not with their regime, that for decades has repressed them, stifled their liberties and crushed their dreams.
“Sadly, for the past eight years, they’ve heard frankly, I think, the opposite message from our government,” Mr. Boehner said.
His comments came as Iranians cast ballots Friday in an election that Western news reports have framed as a test for the Iran’s pro-nuclear deal president, Hassan Rouhani, who hopes to curb conservative dominance in the nation’s parliament and deliver domestic reforms.
Agence France-Presse reported that Iran’s ultimate authority, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was among the first to vote Friday and had urged the country’s 55 million-strong electorate to follow suit, calling it “both a duty and a right.”
Mr. Boehner called on Iranians to boycott the vote and said U.S. officials don’t do enough to encourage Iranians to rise up and overthrow the regime through internal revolution.
“If I were a citizen of Iran, knowing what I know about the regime, I would not vote because it means nothing,” he said, asserting that the Obama administration missed a critical opportunity to stand behind tens of thousands of Iranians who protested after the nation’s 2009 presidential election.
The so-called “Green Movement” protest were crushed within days after an aggressive crackdown by the government’s security apparatus.
Mr. Boehner also laid out a litany of complaints about other activities by Iran, which the State Department continued to list as the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism even as the Obama administration pursued and then backed the implementation of the nuclear accord that eased many international sanctions on the Islamic republic.
“Never in history has something with so many consequences for our national security been rammed through with such little support,” he said. “It’s a deal that rewards the Iranian regime with sanctions relief while allowing [Tehran] to stay on a path to developing a nuclear weapon.”
Mr. Boehner had stood against the deal last fall during the lead-up to his sudden resignation from Congress. He stepped down in late October after serving as House speaker since 2011 — the culmination of his nearly 30 years as a lawmaker.
His theatrical departure came just one day after Pope Francis had addressed Congress in an event Mr. Boehner, himself a devout Catholic, described as the peak of his career.
He has faded from the scene since. A report last month by Politico said he’s been splitting his time between Ohio, D.C. and Florida, has avoided television, been spotted periodically around Capitol Hill and downtown Washington and given private speeches to make money. The Washington Post has reported he left office with more than $2.7 million in leftover political cash that could be used to remain active in helping his former colleagues in the Capitol.
As for his first public speech on Friday, Mr. Boehner came out swinging on Iran.
He accused the White House of ignoring a slate of detailed U.S. intelligence reports about Tehran’s efforts to destabilized the Middle East — from its backing of Shiite rebels in Yemen to its support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and its manipulation of the political and security landscape in Iraq.
He also blamed the American news media for failing to sufficiently cover the Iranian government’s support of terrorism and its abuse of human rights inside the Islamic republic, despite high-profile recent cases such as that of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.
Mr. Rezaian, an Iranian-American dual citizen who was The Post’s bureau chief in Tehran, spent 18 months in an Iranian prison on dubious charges prior to his release in January as part of a prisoner swap negotiated by the Obama administration.
The Organization of Iranian American Communities, a group bent on promoting human rights and democratic change in Iran, held Friday’s event, which was also hosted by the U.S. Foundation for Liberty and Human Rights.
Members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exile group with offices in Paris and Washington known to curry favor with former high-level American officials on both sides of the political aisle, were also on hand.
Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., who served as an assistant secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration during the early 2000s, moderated a discussion with Mr. Boehner.
At one point, Mr. Bloomfield claimed “an average of three people a day are being executed inside Iran and if that were scaled to the U.S. population, that would be 11 executions a day — far, far, far more than anything could be considered normal rule of law.”
“Yet, I don’t seem to here much of anything out of the political circles in Washington,” he said. “Should we be speaking up about this as well as the external terrorism?”
“Well, of course we should,” responded Mr. Boehner. “It’s the regime’s way of maintaining their power. When you’re executing people in a public way, you’re sending a very clear message to your citizens that their speaking out is not going to be tolerated. It’s intimidation. It’s awful. But you won’t read about it in the U.S. papers.”