When National Security Adviser Michael Flynn addressed the White House Press Corps on Iran’s latest ballistic missile launch and stressed that the Trump administration was “putting Iran on notice,” people immediately jumped to the inevitable questions. What did Flynn mean by “on notice?” And was this the opening salvo in a direct confrontation with Iran?
The answer to the latter question is “no,” at least for now. Rather than shake up the existing order – and far from the “all options are on the table” rhetoric that Trump himself used a day prior – the White House chose to follow in the footsteps of the Obama administration. On Friday, over two-dozen Iranian individuals and entities were placed on the Treasury Department’s specially designated nationals list for their involvement in Iran’s ballistic missile program or connection to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
It’s a measured and appropriate response from an administration that is staffed with Iran hawks and led by a president who many Americans don’t believe has the temperament to hold the keys to the nuclear football. It may also be a demonstration that, as far from perfect as the nuclear agreement with Iran is, it’s still working. The new sanctions don’t interfere with the nuclear deal at all.
Republican lawmakers are supportive of the sanctions announcement. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that “[t]his announcement makes clear that it is a new day in U.S.-Iran relations and that we will no longer tolerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior.” John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, welcomed the announcement in his own statement. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce wrote that he’s “glad the administration is taking long-overdue steps to hold the regime accountable.”
All of these comments imply that the Trump administration is doing what the Obama administration failed to do: punish Tehran for breaching U.N. Security Council resolutions and blacklist companies that help finance Iran’s missile activities.
That, of course, isn’t entirely fair. There are several cases of Obama’s Treasury Department slapping financial restrictions on Iranians, Iranian companies and foreign companies involved in Iran’s development of ballistic missiles. And after the nuke deal was signed, the Obama Justice Department charged seven Iranians for hacking U.S. banks and critical infrastructure. The Obama White House continued to bring Iranian missile violations to the Security Council for debate and possible decision. In the first months of 2016, more than a dozen Iranian and foreign companies were shut out of the U.S. financial system for either participating in Tehran’s missile development or transferring weapons to the Assad regime in Syria. You didn’t hear a peep from Republican lawmakers when these measures were announced.
Now that a Republican in the White House is doing pretty much the same thing, GOP lawmakers are having a come-together moment – as if this is a brand new policy concocted by smart sanctions experts who have been alienated from the corridors of power over the previous eight years.
For all of Trump’s bombast about his predecessor, the fact is that the 45th president is traveling down the same road that the 44th president cleared years prior. And that’s a good thing.