This article appeared in Newsmax on September 27, 2021. Click here to view the original article.
By John Bolton
September 27, 2021
President Joe Biden’s failures to protect U.S. national interests, evidenced most recently by his tragic military withdrawal from Afghanistan, are coming to a head over Iran.
For decades, Iran, along with North Korea, has posed the world’s most serious nuclear proliferation threat. The Biden administration will soon have to decide whether to abandon its dangerous, Obama-era approach to Tehran’s menace, or further endanger America and its allies.
Since his inauguration, Biden has obsessed about rejoining former President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). Flawed from the start, the JCPOA enabled Iran’s cynical rulers to continue pursuing their nuclear weapons objectives, escape the burden of international economic sanctions, and receive a bonus of between $120-150 billion in unfrozen Iranian assets.
The JCPOA rests on Iran’s lie that it never had a nuclear weapons program and did not seek such weapons. Israel’s clandestine 2018 raid on Tehran produced conclusive proof of exactly the opposite. Iran never renounced its nuclear ambitions. By permitting uranium enrichment to reactor-grade levels, the JCPOA allowed Iran to continue making substantial progress toward weaponization, and its verification provisions were inadequate and ignored.
Tehran has also persisted in supporting terrorism and pursuing Middle East hegemony through conventional military means. Using its newly unfrozen assets (including billions in cash), Iran increased its supply of weapons and equipment to Shia militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and Houthi rebels in Yemen. Moreover, freed from sanctions, Iran’s economy began to recover, increasing its resources to engage in provocative, hostile behavior across the full spectrum of capabilities.
Thus, when the Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, Iran was stunned and unprepared for the consequences. Despite critics who said unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran would not be effective, Washington’s efforts quickly drove Iran’s oil exports close to zero and actually imposed greater pressure on Tehran than the international sanctions lifted by the JCPOA. Nonetheless, Iran’s regional aggression, both direct and through surrogates, expanded.
Had the “maximum pressure” campaign continued and strengthened, and had we assisted the growing anti-regime sentiment across Iran, there is good reason to think the 1979 Islamic Revolution could finally have been reversed and the ayatollahs overthrown. That outcome, however, is far from Biden’s mind. In fact, his administration has rescinded several sanctions, allowing the impression to spread globally that Biden’s sanctions enforcement will be less strict than under Trump.
During Biden’s 2020 campaign and from his Inauguration, he has relentlessly sought to have America rejoin the JCPOA. Seeing this obvious neediness as a political opportunity, Iran consistently increased its demands during negotiations in Vienna, rejecting U.S. efforts to require Iran to resume compliance with JCPOA restrictions. Even more boldly, Iran has insisted Washington end economic sanctions imposed on Iran for terrorist activities, not just the sanctions against its nuclear program. Iran also demanded Biden commit that no future administration would withdraw from the deal, which even Biden has found hard to swallow.
During Biden’s presidency, Iran and its surrogates have ramped up the nuclear efforts; increased terrorist attacks against oil infrastructure targets in the region; continued to direct Shia militia groups attacking U.S. bases in Iraq; and supplied more weapons to Syria’s Assad regime, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis. With Ebrahim Raisi’s recent election as president, leaders determined to achieve deliverable nuclear weapons now thoroughly control Iran. Raisi, the likely successor as Supreme Leader when Ali Khamenei dies or resigns, showed no moderation or flexibility in his remotely delivered Sept. 21 speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
Because of Iran’s intransigence and Biden’s weakness, Biden will soon confront some hard choices. He reiterated in his U.N. address (delivered the same day as Raisi’s) that if Iran returned to “full compliance” with the JCPOA, the U.S. would also do so. Of course, Iran has never been close to full compliance, and there is no sign it ever will be.
Accordingly, Biden faces one of three basic alternatives:
· Cave in entirely, return to the misbegotten JCPOA, and embrace the illusion of a deal that cannot accomplish its stated objectives.
· Reject the JCPOA, reimpose sanctions, and begin new negotiations with Iran.
· Revitalize the “maximum pressure” campaign, and, along with Israel and the Gulf Arabs, implement new means to apply pressure and disable or eliminate Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile efforts.
These are the essential options, although there are innumerable variations.
Ideologically, Biden undoubtedly prefers option 1, hoping he can somehow justify returning to the flawed JCPOA and claim victory. Despite the dangers and pitfalls of this choice, it remains not merely viable, but the White House’s first preference. If even Biden balks at indulging in this delusion, the administration will select option 2. Unless, however, sanctions enforcement is pursued vigorously, which Biden seems reluctant to do, the second option will, as a practical matter, look a lot like the first. New negotiations with Iran will go nowhere. Option 2 will neither stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, nor even measurably slow it down.
Which brings us to the third option, the one most likely to be effective but least likely for Biden to choose. Iran’s threat, now over forty years old, has not diminished with time. To the contrary, its radical ideology has stiffened, and its aggressive capabilities have substantially increased. The longer Washington allows this danger to metastasize, the greater the ultimate difficulty of neutralizing it. In May, for example, Iran and China signed a major framework deal (valued at approximately $400 billion) for China to invest in Iran in exchange for guaranteed oil supplies. Iran wants to sell oil free from sanctions pressures, and China’s domestic energy assets are nowhere near sufficient to fuel its economy. The Iran-China deal benefits both countries, enhances China’s influence in the Middle East, and funds Iran’s nuclear and terrorist threats.
Notwithstanding Biden’s aversion to option 3, it warrants further elaboration and debate. Israel is now discussing with the administration a “Plan B” for when, as Israel fully expects, the JCPOA collapses of its own weight. Whether or not Biden is serious in these discussions, America as a whole should be. Returning to the JCPOA would be a U.S. surrender to the ayatollahs, increasing the risks to us and our allies. Simply limping along with sanctions without a longer-term strategy to eliminate Iran’s threat is no answer either.
We should be urgently developing policies designed to protect America’s interests and those of its Middle East allies. Focusing on China, this century’s existential threat to the West, cannot be an excuse to ignore other current and future threats, especially from terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. “Pivoting to Asia” does not mean ignoring dangers elsewhere. Enhancing our national security remains a powerful political argument for those who see the world realistically and can have a profound political appeal in the 2024 presidential elections, whether against Biden or another weak Democrat. A word to the wise.