English poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling could have been writing about Iran in his poem “The Gods of the Copy Book Headings.” Speaking to those who would abandon the proverbial wisdom scrolled on the heading of workbooks that students used to practice penmanship, Kipling reminds us about things that are folly. A “dog returns to his vomit and the sow returns to her mire, and the burnt fool’s bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the fire.”
The United States has reaffirmed its opposition to a resumption of conventional arms sales to Iran by any nation. The terror mullahs will reliably pursue their hegemonic goals in the Middle East as well as their efforts to develop a ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.
Iran has predictably responded to this with bellicose and provocative language. It’s been a hard time for them since President Trump — who does not suffer their foolishness well — took the helm from the gullible Obama administration, which was eager to sign a nuclear agreement with Tehran, no matter how weak and unenforceable it was.
The U.S. rejection of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, and our subsequent imposition of crushing economic sanctions on Iran for its continued proliferation and terrorist behavior has brought Iran’s economy and military to its knees. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani resorted to his usual diatribes this week. He promised his country will give a “crushing response” if the arms embargo is extended. Mr. Rouhani is, once again, demonstrating incendiary folly.
In foreign policy and matters of national security, it is vitally important to see things as they are, not as you wish them to be. Mr. Trump has been extremely focused on reality when it comes to Iran. He recognizes its leaders for the malevolent players that they are. That’s why he took swift, effective action to eliminate their chief mastermind of terror, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the militant terror Quds Force.
Since then, he has struck Iranian-supported militias in Iraq. Most recently, he made clear to Iran’s navy that if it threatens the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf, then a watery grave awaits it. All good. All clear, except if you are a wobbling fool intent on putting your finger back in the fire yet again.
The U.S. demand that the world not resume arms trade with Iran in October of this year, as envisioned in JCPOA, defies elaboration. Allowing Iran to rearm is akin to giving the wolf unconstrained access to the sheepfold. It would be an irresponsible act. That is why the president’s secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is correct when he says the United States will “use every tool we have” to stop a renewal of arms sales to Iran by the international community. Mr. Rouhani is unamused. But he is also desperate.
Iran’s failing economy, coupled with its huge lose of life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has revealed Mr. Rouhani and his government for the disaster they are. The domestic unrest Iran has witnessed in recent months is a poignant reminder to their leaders that they face a popular revolt if they are not careful. In that environment, it is not surprising that Iran has resumed its strident rhetoric and threats to the United States. Nothing like a foreign crisis to divert domestic anger. Nor is it a surprise that a resolute Trump administration is unmoved by that.
What should America do in the days ahead? First, as we emerge from our own preoccupation with COVID-19, we should redouble our efforts to contain and reform Iranian misbehavior in the Middle East and indeed around the globe. That requires a strengthening of economic sanctions to the fullest extent possible along with a resolve to respond with appropriate military power if Iran strikes U.S. military forces or civilians.
Second, we must make clear to America’s allies and friends that a resumption of arms sales to Iran will be a profound breach of trust and will have economic consequences for those who would. Finally, America must make clear to Russia and China that they risk further international isolation and stringent economic sanctions if they act to rearm Iran.
Current U.S. sanctions have hurt Russia’s economy while China faces the wrath of the United States, angry over Beijing’s deception in the spread of COVID-19. Already the United States is considering severing supply chains with China. More sanctions would be additional downward pressure on the Chinese economy.
Continuing the arms embargo will anger the Iranian leadership. They will be more inclined than ever to engage in military action. But attacking the United States militarily would indeed be folly. That’s why Kipling’s poetic conclusion is something Iran should heed. “As surely as water will wet us, as surely as fire will burn, The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!”
• L. Scott Lingamfelter is a retired U.S. Army colonel, Virginia state legislator, and author of “Desert Redleg: Artillery Warfare in the First Gulf War,” published by University Press of Kentucky and the Association of the U.S. Army.