Strategy to Restore U.S. Leverage Against Iran
So disastrous is the agreement struck by the Obama administration to limit Iran’s nuclear program, that neither continuing in this arrangement nor exiting from it currently serves the national interests and security of the United States. As the Trump administration confronts this dangerous inheritance, its preeminent priority should be restoring U.S. credibility, leverage and options to confront the entire range of Iran’s menacing behavior: its undeterred nuclear ambitions; its expanding ballistic missile program; its destabilizing engagement in regional conflicts; and its unending support for terrorism.
Until such credibility is restored, the United States incurs too great a risk from either continuing to abide by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the agreement is known, or walking away from it.
Under the agreement Iran accrues great financial, military and geopolitical benefits while having to make only the smallest of concessions on its nuclear program – mothballing some installations and limiting some of its activities, but only for a decade and a half at most. Allowing the JCPOA to run its course means acquiescing to the emergence of a nuclear and hegemonic Iran.
Meanwhile, the agreement forced the United States to give up what leverage it did have over Iran – in the form of economic sanctions – with no ability to rapidly restore it or re-exert pressure on Tehran. Exiting from the JCPOA now would free Iran to sprint for a nuclear weapons capability in a year or less, while the United States would face years of diplomatic wrangling to rebuild the international sanctions regime that eventually brought Iran to the negotiating table.
The Trump administration cannot and should not abide this strategic imbalance — with Iran accruing leverage over the United States, effectively able to deter it from exiting a diplomatic agreement that harms its national security. To reverse this dangerous and worsening trajectory, the United States needs a comprehensive strategy that rebuilds leverage. Given the short time horizon, the damage already done by the JCPOA, and advances already made by Iran, economic pressure alone will not suffice. A serious Iran strategy must call upon all forms of U.S. national power, not just sanctions. This requires sustained leadership and continued engagement by the White House.
Specifically, the United States must vigorously enforce the JCPOA, rebuild military pressures against Iran, cooperate closely with regional allies including Israel and Gulf countries, support these allies’ efforts to cooperate more closely with one another and use strategic communications to amplify all these steps and demonstrate newfound resolve to Iran.
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
Former General Counsel and Deputy Staff Director of U.S. House Armed Services Committee