As the diplomatic showdown between the Persian Gulf powers Iran and Saudi Arabia continues to spread to other nations in the Middle East, Marco Rubio, the Republican presidential candidate with the strongest foreign policy resume, took the opportunity to pen a blistering op-ed in the conservative magazine National Review attacking President Obama’s handling of Iran. In it, the first-term Florida senator suggests that the deal that the U.S. and other world powers reached with Iran earlier this year to scale down its nuclear program somehow led to the current crisis.
Like much of the overheated rhetoric at this stage of the presidential campaign, the Rubio piece is at times a bit over the top.
Last week, Iran surrendered tons of radioactive material that could have been enriched to weapons grade, handing it off to Russia, one of the partners in the negotiation. At the time, Rubio notes, Secretary of State John Kerry called the move “one of the most significant steps Iran has taken” toward implementation of the deal.
That’s really not arguable. Surrendering the stockpile of nuclear material was a non-negotiable element of the agreement. But in Rubio’s world, that’s not a simple acknowledgment of fact, but an example of how the Obama administration “heaped praise on the mullahs in Tehran.”
He also draws a more or less straight line between the agreement and the current flare-up of animosity between Iran and Saudi Arabia that took place after the Saudis executed a prominent Shiite cleric. Saudi Arabians are mostly Sunni Muslim, while Iranians mostly belong to the Shia sect. After the execution, Iranian security forces allowed a mob in Tehran to sack the Saudi embassy, leading the Saudis and several of their allies to cut diplomatic ties with Iran and to impose sanctions.
Though it might seem tenuous to most people, to Rubio the connection to the Iran nuclear deal is clear.
“Among other things, the deal has greatly harmed relations between the United States and its traditional allies in the Middle East, Israel first and foremost. It has also emboldened Iran, which will receive important financial assistance to fund its regional aggression in places like Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Syria. In recent days, Iran even allowed the Saudi embassy in Tehran to be ransacked, leading Saudi Arabia to rightfully sever diplomatic relations with Iran.”
When Rubio isn’t trying to score cheap rhetorical points, he raises serious concerns about the attachment the Obama administration and its international partners have to the deal.
Since it was concluded, Rubio notes, the administration has essentially ignored violations of United Nations travel ban by the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, done little to address large sale human rights violations within Iran including the imprisonment of Americans like journalist Jason Rezaian, and has reportedly delayed sanctions on Iran over its illegal missile testing program.
“That is why as president I will scrap this fundamentally flawed deal,” Rubio wrote. “Instead, I will reimpose the sanctions that President Obama waives and will impose crushing new measures targeting all of Iran’s illicit behavior. Rather than cutting deals with a regime with American blood on its hands, I will pressure Iran on all fronts across the Middle East. I will increase support to our allies in the region that are on the frontline of Iran’s nefarious activities. The mullahs will no longer have an American president to push around.”