Comprehensive U.S. Strategy Toward Iran After the JCPOA

The Trump Administration potentially is opening a new chapter in America’s relationship with Iran. In withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program, it has discarded its predecessor’s misplaced hopes of moderating Tehran’s increasing aggression through engagement, in favor of a set of demands that, if realized, could significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear program and regional aggression and possibly hasten the end of the regime.

A sea change indeed is required. For too long the United States has been self-deterred from confronting the Iranian regime, out of concern to empower purported moderates in Tehran or an overriding desire simply to wash its hands of the Middle East. This retrenchment has only encouraged the regime’s inherently malign behaviors, including its periodic testing of the limits of the nuclear deal, continued progress on advanced centrifuges and ballistic missiles, regional expansion, support for terrorism and propagation of virulent anti-American ideology. Paradoxically, many of these actions make the regime increasingly unpopular at home and overextended in the region.

The United States needs a forceful and clear policy to roll back the growth of the Iranian threat. To secure the administration’s demands that Tehran abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony as well as its continuing support for terrorism, the United States must develop a comprehensive strategy utilizing all elements of American and allied power – diplomatic, economic and military – to apply maximum leverage over the Iranian regime, including by targeting its underlying vulnerabilities. The administration’s formation of an Iran Action Group to manage government-wide policy and coordinate with allies is a potential step in the right direction. As part of this strategy, American policymakers must be prepared to deter or thwart a range of responses by Iran intended to counter these new pressures.

This new approach entails more than returning to the pre-JCPOA focus on sanctions, even as the administration re-imposes these measures. With Tehran already facing persistent and widespread domestic protests, sanctions appear better poised now than before the deal to starve the regime of precious resources for maintaining control at home and exporting its revolution. This in turn could magnify internal opposition to the regime and reinforce its abiding fear that the United States actively seeks its overthrow.

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Task Force Co-Chairmen

Amb. Eric Edelman
Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey.

Gen Charles “Chuck” Wald, USAF (ret.)
Former Deputy Commander of U.S. European Command.

Task Force Members

VADM John M. Bird, USN (ret.)
Former Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet; former Director, U.S. Navy Staff

Gen James T. Conway, USMC (ret.)
Former Commandant of the Marine Corps; former Director of Operations (J-3) on the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Lt Gen Henry Obering, USAF (ret.)
Former Director of U.S. Missile Defense Agency

Maj Gen Lawrence Stutzriem, USAF (ret.)
Former Director, Plans, Policy and Strategy at North American Aerospace Defense Command

Dr. Ray Takeyh
Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations

Roger Zakheim
Former General Counsel and Deputy Staff Director of U.S. House Armed Services Committee