By Congressman Bob Turner
BROOKLYN — I recently had the pleasure of visiting our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel. As the only full-fledged democracy in a region of hostile neighbors and dictatorships, the Israeli people have a full appreciation of the risk that the current Iranian regime represents. They understand that something must be done to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, and the fundamental threat an Iranian nuclear bomb presents to the United States and its allies.
The American people deserve an honest assessment of the Iranian regime and its intentions. I, and many of my congressional colleagues, call the ayatollahs’ government what it is: a radical, illegitimate, terrorist dictatorship. It oppresses its people at home and it backs radical terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas abroad. Since the 1979 Revolution, and the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the radical government of Ayatollah Khomeini and his heirs has been the chief state sponsor of terrorism within the Middle East and the broader world.
Even a brief overview of the past 30 years shows the depravity of the regime. In 1979, Khomeini’s followers seized the United States embassy in Tehran and held the 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days. During the long 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, the Iranian regime attacked American shipping and American interests in the Persian Gulf. The most heinous of these attacks was carried out by the Iranian puppet group Hezbollah on the American military barracks in Beirut on October 23, 1983. 241 American servicemen died. Even during a so-called “reformist” period in the 1990’s under President Mohammad Khatami, the regime backed an attack on the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia. Nineteen American servicemen were killed.
Under Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Khameini, and the heinous current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the regime’s support for terrorist groups from Lebanon to Venezuela has continued — and its not-so-clandestine nuclear program has gone forward at full bore. The American government, our European allies and international agencies like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) all agree that the Iranian nuclear program — claimed by the regime to be nothing more than the development of nuclear power — is really geared towards the development of a weapon.
Estimates for when an Iranian weapon could be completed range from 2014 to as early as next year. The IAEA confirmed on January 9, 2012, that Iran now has the capability to produce 20-percent-enriched uranium, which is used solely for the creation of fissile material. The recent revelation that Iran will soon begin enrichment of uranium at a second major site ensures that, if unchecked, they will have the bomb sooner rather than later. Combined with recent Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz — one of the world’s major shipping lanes — this nuclear escalation represents a clear and present danger to the United States and an existential threat to our Israeli ally.
The administration’s response to this ever-growing threat has been lackluster to the point of negligence. There are four steps that the president can immediately take in order to respond to this threat.
• First, the President must use all of the tools at his disposal to enforce sanctions on Iran. The National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law in late 2011. One of the bill’s provisions gives the president the authority to institute strict sanctions on the Iranian Central Bank. He should do so immediately. Additionally, H.R. 1905, the Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011, was passed by a wide, bipartisan majority of the House on December 14, 2011. It gives the President the authority to impose even more severe sanctions on the Iranian Central Bank and to restrict its access to international credit markets. The bill has stalled in the Senate, and the President needs to urge Senator Reid to bring it to the floor as soon as possible.
• Second, the president can take another look at his recently announced cuts to the Department of Defense. Strategic cuts to unnecessary programs can and should be made. However, the cuts announced will drastically reduce the size of the military and the ability to fight multiple conflicts simultaneously. We cannot afford across-the-board defense cuts at a time when the Iranian threat is clearly growing and when the risk to American strategic interests in the Middle East is increasing. Drastic defense cuts seriously hamper our potential for a military response.
• Third, the United States must continue to push our international partners to increase pressure on the ayatollahs. President Obama must ease the fears of allies — particularly in Central and Eastern Europe — who depend on Iranian oil supplies about shortages and work with the Saudis, Kuwaitis and other friendly producer nations to ensure that global supplies will not suffer in the event of increased tensions. He must also continue to put pressure on Iran’s major trading partners: China and Russia. Both nations have been increasingly uncomfortable with the Iranian regime’s headlong rush to build a nuclear weapon, and the president must work to bring them fully into our camp.
• Finally, the president should get fully behind anti-regime movements and activists in Iran. He failed to quickly support the democratic Green Movement following the rigged 2009 Iranian Parliament elections, and the regime has increased its crackdown on any and all who dream of a free and democratic Iran. Obama should make it clear to the ayatollahs where the United States stands and with whom it stands.
We face an increasingly aggressive Iranian regime. It meddles in Iraq and Afghanistan, threatens America and its allies on a regular basis, and, ominously, is expanding its ties with the dictatorial regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and his sidekick in Bolivia, Evo Morales. Between Iranian ambitions abroad and their ever-growing nuclear program, we are rapidly approaching a point of no return. Once the first nuclear weapon is completed, it will be too late for mere sanctions and negotiations to stop the ayatollahs’ ambitions.
Now is not the time for President Obama to lead from behind. It is time to show some real leadership by demonstrating a willingness to keep all options on the table and standing firmly beside our allies before it is too late.