by Ben Armbruster
Just hours after Donald Trump announced this week that he would violate the Iran nuclear deal by refusing to waive sanctions on Iran, the most prominent voice that spent years campaigning against the agreement tried to distance himself from the negative repercussions.
In a ten-part Twitter thread, Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), insisted that he had supported Obama’s diplomatic strategy—even though he thought the agreement should be fixed—and that he has “concerns” about blowing up the deal. He warned of potential “dangerous consequences” to come.
If you’ve been closely following this issue over the years, as I have, Dubowitz’s measured and nuanced analysis in that thread is actually quite laughable. In no way does it bear any resemblance to what he’s been saying about Iran or the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) over the last decade or so.
Indeed, just as the U.S. invasion of Iraq was, in part, the culmination of years of work by neoconservatives and their allies to militarily oust Saddam Hussein, so too was Donald Trump’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear agreement this week the result of patient organizing.
And Dubowitz has been at the center of that campaign. Don’t take my word for it. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg once called Dubowitz “one of the most ardent and effective opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement.” The head of the FDD was also the primary focus of a Politico piece back in 2016 titled, “Inside the Plan to Undo the Iran Nuclear Deal.”
FDD was joined in this effort by groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, United Against a Nuclear Iran, and the Israel Project, as well as their Republican allies in Congress, and many, many others, some of which received generous funding from right-wing billionaire Sheldon “nuke Iran” Adelson. They have been laying the groundwork for Trump’s decision for years by poisoning the JCPOA’s well, all while paying lip service to the fantasy of a better agreement.
Dubowitz’s Track Record
Contrast Dubowitz’s caution about killing the deal this week with his past actions and rhetoric.
Back in 2011, Dubowitz revealed his ultimate goal regarding the Iran nuclear issue. “The best way [to end Iran’s nuclear program] is to work toward changing the regime,” he said.
Since then, he’s waged a steady but vocal and influential campaign against diplomatic efforts to rein in Iran’s program. As President Obama’s efforts were heating up, a full one year before the JCPOA was agreed to, Dubowitz co-authored a plan “for Congress to unravel any potential agreement after the ink was dry.”
And soon after the U.S. and its international partners reached the historic agreement with Iran in July 2015, Dubowitz went on the attack, calling the JCPOA “a ticking time bomb” that “is so dangerous.”
“The Islamic Republic has undeniably become even more aggressive since inking the nuclear accord,” he said, adding that Obama “has weakened America’s position in the Persian Gulf.” Dubowitz even went so far as to say that the JCPOA “fuel[s] Iran’s imperialism and its ardent anti-Semitism.”
These examples are just a small sampling of the hyperbolic, doomsday rhetoric coming from Dubowitz about the JCPOA. He and his allies would then repeat this fear-mongering via an endless loop of newspaper op-eds, quotations given to prominent mainstream news reporters, television and radio segments, and congressional hearings.
But now that Trump has violated the agreement, Dubowitz is on a PR blitz to absolve himself of any responsibility, saying that he’s always been “someone who wants to fix not nix the Iran nuke deal.”
Except that’s not what he was saying just a few months ago. Back in October, Dubowitz penned an op-ed in USA Today, in which he argued for his “fix,” but added that if it can’t be fixed, it should be “nixed.”
The debate on the Iran deal at that time, he argued in the piece, has moved “from ‘keep it or nix it’ to ‘fix it or nix it.’ That’s progress.” So in other words, Dubowitz was fine with the deal being killed if it couldn’t be renegotiated.
Here’s the rub with the “fix” argument: although there is precedent for arms control agreements to be amended slightly over time, all parties to those deals are involved in the talks and agree to the terms. The Iran deal “fixers” put forth conditions only to be negotiated by the U.S. and Europe without including Russia, China, or, probably most importantly, Iran.
So there was and will be no magic potion that suddenly gives these “fixers” everything they want. Indeed, as former Obama administration official Colin Kahl once noted, “any agreement—no matter how stringent—would be of dubious value [to JCPOA critics] because the regime would inevitably cheat.”
Gunning for Regime Change
Which brings us back to Dubowitz’s desire for regime change. He and his FDD colleague Reuel Marc Gerecht argued in 2012 that “if we are going to pursue tougher international sanctions against Iran—and we should—the goal should be regime change in Iran, not stopping proliferation.” (It’s probably worth noting here that Gerecht has been even more extreme on Iran, having once quipped, “I’ve written about 25,000 words about bombing Iran. Even my mom thinks I’ve gone too far.”)
Even to this day, they haven’t given up their pursuit of overthrowing the mullahs in Tehran. In fact, behind the scenes, Dubowitz and his allies have actually been advising the Trump administration on a regime-change strategy.
The fact that Iraq-war boosters have emerged largely unscathed from the mess they helped create has, in part, produced the current impasse with Iran. It’s critical not to let off the hook those most responsible for helping an egomaniac reality television star undo all of the diplomatic successes of President Obama.
Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations put it to Dubowitz best: “[It w]ould be respectable if for once FDD took responsibility for its actions. Everyone knows there was never [a] substantive difference between fixers & nixers on the Iran deal. Your bottom line is to crush any diplomacy with Iran: take ownership of the crisis you’ve advocated for years.”
Oh and one more thing, Dubowitz’s PR campaign this week also includes attacking those who point out his hypocrisy as “character assassins.” If Dubowitz is admitting that repeating his own words back to him amounts to an assassination of his character, perhaps this is an admission of some kind of culpability.
Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and previously served as National Security Editor at ThinkProgress.