President Donald Trump didn’t hesitate to take a victory lap after Iran’s zero-casualty “revenge” for the U.S. killing of its top general.
Addressing the nation Wednesday morning, the president boasted of the superiority of his approach to Iranian aggression over that of President Barack Obama, who Trump blamed for funding missiles that Iran fired at American troops Tuesday night.
“The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration,” Trump said in his Wednesday speech, according to a transcript from NBC News.
No Americans were hurt in the strikes, and by Wednesday morning Washington and Tehran had apparently agreed to de-escalate.
Trump blames Barack
Iran finally responded to the killing of Soleimani with a series of missile attacks on two Iraqi bases housing American troops on Tuesday. Afterward, Iran said that it would not seek further escalation, and Trump responded in kind the next morning, ending tensions that set off fears of war.
In a speech Wednesday that mixed Trumpian bravado with overtures of peace to the Iranian regime, Trump painted a clear contrast between his administration and that of his predecessor, opening his remarks by boldly declaring, “As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” The president went on to praise the Pentagon for keeping troops safe from Iran’s missiles and blamed Obama for the current crisis in the Persian Gulf, Fox News reported.
Echoing long-standing critiques of Obama’s Iran policy, Trump said that the “foolish Iran deal” emboldened the regime to pursue a campaign of terror throughout the Middle East and claimed that Obama helped Iran pay for the missiles it used to target American troops. Trump pointed to $150 billion in Iranian assets that were unfrozen in the 2015 deal with Iran and $1.8 billion in cash that Obama sent to the Islamic Republic.
“Iran went on a terror spree, funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq,” Trump said.
Obama’s cash payments
The $1.8 billion cash was paid back to Iran in an arbitration settlement dating from before Iran’s 1979 revolution, and it included a $400 million principal and $1.3 billion in interest. The exchange was slammed as a ransom, however, because it coincided with the release of hostages, according to Fox.
No less than Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry conceded that the administration could not be sure none of the money found its way to funding Iranian terror operations, telling CNBC in 2016: “I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorist. You know, to some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.”
“Peace through strength”
Supporters of Trump’s response have praised his approach to Iran as an example of “peace through strength” and an improvement over Barack Obama’s “appeasement.” But supporters of Obama have long said that Iran was following the 2015 deal’s stipulations and that Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign worsened tensions.
For his part, Donald Trump has long attacked Obama’s Iran policy, particularly the nuclear deal, which he repeatedly called the “worst deal” ever on the campaign trail. Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018, setting off a series of escalations that culminated in Soleimani’s death.
The agreement is now all but defunct after Soleimani’s killing, which led Iran to announce that it was withdrawing from remaining commitments to limits on its nuclear program. Mixing threats with a call to seek peace, Trump announced that he would impose economic sanctions on Iran and called on Western allies to join America in pulling out of the “very defective” Iran deal, which he said was expiring soon, giving Iran a “clear and quick path to nuclear breakout.”
“They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal — or JCPOA — and we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place,” Trump said. “We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper, and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential. Iran can be a great country.”