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Obama's policies created new paths for Iranian expansion

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It was a terrible year for Tehran. With the 2009 election fast approaching, the mullahs tried to buy votes by giving away free produce. Rather than appease the masses, the giveaway sparked cries of "death to potatoes."

Frustration with the rigged election ignited the "Green Revolution," which threatened to bring down the government. Internal strife was not the only problem.

Iran's covert nuclear program was no longer a secret. The program had earned Iran a spot on President Bush's "axis of evil" chart, as well as economic sanctions and political isolation that were starting to pinch.

Now, Tehran found itself in a small box with the U.S. military on two sides. The Iranian regime had tried its best to fuel the insurgency in Iraq by pouring deadly weapons into the fray.

Meanwhile, though U.S. operations in Afghanistan looked troubled, the Americans were threatening a "surge" there as well. If that succeeded, it would blunt Iranian influence to the West.

With Turkey (a member of NATO) on the other side, Tehran's vision of expanding influence looked dim.

As the Green Revolution grew, the mullahs might have questioned whether they could even hold on at home.

Then President Obama's foreign policy kicked in, creating a series of opportunities for the Iranian regime to save itself.

Rather than mobilize global support to cheer on the Green Revolution, Obama tried a charm offensive with the discredited regime.

That helped deflate the revolution and gave Tehran a break from political and economic isolation.

At the same time, Obama initiated a speedy retreat from Iraq. That left Iraq as the Middle East's next basket case rather than a dependable U.S. ally.

Obama also instituted half-a-surge in Afghanistan, which looks to leave the country in not much better shape than Iraq.

Obama has been little more than a passive observer as Turkey has drifted away from a pro-U.S. foreign policy.

In Syria, the U.S. had the opportunity to coordinate efforts that would end the Assad regime and cut off Iran's pipeline to Hezbollah in Lebanon (Tehran's chief tool for state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East).

Instead, Obama opted for a rash and hollow threat of force, followed by a head-scratching diplomatic adventure that has only strengthened Assad under the guise of removing his chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, after cancelling most of the missile defense shield meant to deter Iran’s rapidly advancing missile program, Obama continues to trumpet his shift of U.S. military power away from the Middle East to focus on Asia.

It all adds up to a near-total abandonment of U.S. efforts to keep Iran from becoming the world’s first Islamist superpower.

Only one constructive foreign policy component remains in place: an international regime of sanctions that have put real pressure on Tehran.

Now, however, it is being suggested that the administration might try to ease those sanctions in return for “concessions” from Tehran.

The mullahs are desperate to get out from under the sanctions, but they're not about to trade away their nuclear program or cease their destabilizing regional activities for a bit of sanctions relief.

The White House would do better to return to the policies that left the regime weak and teetering on the verge of collapse in 2009. Those measures could once more help set the conditions to revive freedom in Iran.

Without them, the Green Revolutionaries can expect only continued oppression from a government which sees little value in peace, prosperity or freedom.

 - James Jay Carafano, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in the Washington Examiner

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