The administration of US President Joe Biden has an Iran problem. Its Iran quandary is compounded by the fact that Biden’s team does not see Iran as a problem. In fact, the Biden administration views Iran as a solution to America’s wider Middle East problem. President Biden doesn’t understand that Iran is the problem in the region.
By normalizing Iran and ignoring Tehran’s nuclear brinkmanship, the Biden team believes it will mitigate the risk of a regional war that will involve the United States.
The Biden team is wrong.
Their actions are, in fact, ensuring that the United States will never leave the Middle East. And, if President Biden and his team are not careful, they may send the wrong signals: namely that the US is abandoning the region and leaving it in the hands of America’s enemies. In turn, America’s allies (namely Israel and Saudi Arabia) will make their own calculations based on these signals and take actions that are inimical to US interests.
In Israel, the government will start moving closer to America’s great-power rivals, such as Russia and China, while courting a greater conflict with Iran now, when the government believes that Iran is not yet powerful enough to attack Israel.
In Saudi Arabia, the government may seek greater accommodation with Tehran while hedging its position by acquiring nuclear weapons from Pakistan. Riyadh might also goad the other Sunni states into moving closer to Russia and/or China, believing that Washington’s time in the region is at an end.
If Iran believes that Israel may strike soon, or if Iran’s rulers worry that Saudi Arabia may be acquiring its own nuclear arsenal, Tehran may lash out now, rather than wait. Thus regional war – or something worse – will erupt because of Biden’s maneuvers there.
Belonging to a generation that has been encouraged to “think outside of the box,” it might be time for Biden’s Mideast team to return to the box.
After all, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which elevated theocratic totalitarians to power and stunted Iran’s advancement into a peaceful, modern, developed country, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been America’s No 1 foe in the Middle East.
From routine cries of “Death to America!” heard daily in the streets and in the many mosques of Iran to the wanton support of Islamist terrorism, Iran has proved itself to be an actor utterly inimical to the United States, its interests in the region, and its allies.
Regardless of who sits in the president’s office in Iran – whether he be a self-styled “moderate” or a hawk – Iran’s policies have remained firm and fixed.
After two generations of these anti-American policies, it’s inexplicable as to why President Biden’s team think they could change the ideological nature of this regime with kind words and appalling appeasement.
And, yes, “appeasement” is precisely the correct word to use here.
By attempting to “normalize” relations with the Shiite Islamist fascists who rule Iran – by allowing this regime to acquire nuclear weapons – all while Washington abandons its long-standing allies in the region, President Biden is behaving like British prime minister Neville Chamberlain did in Munich.
The Second World War was the comparison that Jamal Khashoggi made in 2018 when he went on international television to defend Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in the Yemen Civil War. According to Khashoggi, by supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Iran was behaving like Nazi Germany and Saudi Arabia was acting like Winston Churchill’s Britain, trying to roll back the Iranian scourge.
Whether the Biden administration likes it or not, this is how many non-Iranians in the Middle East view the situation.
Interestingly, it was Biden’s much-reviled predecessor, Donald Trump, who understood the Middle East best. Before Trump came along, neither the Jewish democracy of Israel nor the authoritarian Sunni Arab states had any real interest in working together. That changed with the Trump administration’s signature diplomatic move in the Middle East: the Abraham Accords.
Bringing together the often-rivaling power centers of Israel and the Sunni Arab states, Trump was solidifying America’s role in the region by empowering its two strongest clients there – without risking a direct American military intervention.
The logic went that Washington would help the Israelis and the Sunni Arabs stand up to contain Iran while the United States slowly stepped back from the region – keeping their forces in reserve, only intervening militarily again in the region if something serious erupted that neither the Israelis nor the Sunnis could handle.
After his electoral defeat in 2020, however, Trump’s plan was left unfinished. When the Biden administration came to power, it sought to undo the budding alliance of Israel and the Sunni Arab states. Instead, Biden favored a return to the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the so-called “nuclear deal” with Iran.
This would normalize relations with Iran, put America’s traditional allies in a dangerous spot, and would let loose the nuclear genie from its bottle – in a region that is already brimming with chaos and bloodshed.
President Biden must abandon the foolish JCPOA and instead expand upon the success of the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords. This diplomatic agreement is the only way to preserve US power in the region and keep both Russia and China back.
Keeping the Abraham Accords in place would also prevent another regional war – one that could turn into a world war.
All of this is today in question, as Biden sloppily re-calibrates US foreign policy toward accepting the rogue regime of Iran and punishing America’s closest allies in the region.
Not everything Trump did was bad. Now is the time for President Biden to rise above partisanship and ideology and be realistic: The only way America gets out of the Middle East is by handing the region off to its allies, not its enemies.