Claim Obama funded attacks shocking even for Trump
It's no secret that President Donald Trump isn't a fan of former president Barack Obama's policy toward Iran; he has made that clear since before he was a presidential candidate. Even as he was claiming success in the ongoing standoff with Iran on Wednesday, Trump used the occasion to lodge a very serious charge against Obama: that his administration effectively funded the attacks that were aimed at U.S. forces Tuesday night.
"Iran's hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash," Trump said at the White House. "Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted 'Death to America.' . . . Then Iran went on a terror spree funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq."
Then Trump turned to Obama again: "The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration."
Here was Trump on an encouraging day for the United States. Much remains unsettled, but Iran responded to the killing of its most significant military commander with missile attacks on Iraqi bases that haven't resulted in deaths of either Americans or Iraqis. Trump's allies claimed victory, saying he had cowed the antagonistic Middle Eastern country.
Trump, though, opted to use the opportunity to settle old scores and accuse his predecessor of funding what the U.S. government has labeled as terrorism. And some Democrats immediately criticized him for it.
"This was supposed to be an address to the nation," tweeted Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif. "Instead, it was another embarrassing reminder of @realDonaldTrump's absurd fixation on vilifying @BarackObama."
There are some real nuances with the money Iran got. The $150 billion is a false claim Trump has repeatedly made; it refers to funds already belonging to Iran that were unfrozen as part of the nuclear deal signed in 2013, and it's on the high end of estimates. Others suggest it's closer to $25 billion or $50 billion.
As for the $1.8 billion, despite Trump's repeated suggestions that it was some kind of gift to Iran, the money was actually owed to Iran thanks to a years-old settlement in an international court. Iran had purchased military equipment from the United States, but that equipment was never delivered, because of tensions between the two countries in the late 1970s. (The amount was actually estimated to be closer to $1.7 billion.)
Part of that money was delivered to Iran in controversial circumstances, with the Obama administration using it as leverage for freed hostages. It was likened to ransom, but it was money that Iran was owed.
As for whether either of those sums was used specifically on the missiles Iran used Tuesday night, there's no way to know.
The biggest takeaway, though, is that Trump used a moment that could have been unifying when it comes to the United States' posture toward Iran to suggest that his predecessor had helped arm our enemies.
Aaron Blake is a senior political reporter, writing for The Fix.
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