Things are changing fast in Iran – and the Biden team needs to take stock. Accidental wars missed opportunities, regrettable world events often start with missed signals, converging currents, small events that turn out to be significant. Such events are afoot in Iran and beyond.
First, a high-fear, low-turnout “election” in Iran – controlled by a repressive Islamic theological cabal – just “elected” Ebrahim Raisi, that country’s new President. Departing President Hassan Rouhani had no third term while leading competitors were “disqualified” prior to the vote. Such is the power of a radical theocracy.
The ascension of Raisi raises serious diplomatic questions. He was sanctioned by the United States “for executing thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s.” This is the person with whom Biden, aided by backroom Kerry, would presumably since a second “nuclear deal,’ in Washington-talk “JCPOA” (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), or second money tree.
This alone should get your goat. Add a second fact, new concern. Earlier this month, undiscussed in most press, Biden reversed the sanctions Trump and Pompeo placed on Iran’s major oil players – in late 2020. You did not hear that? Few did. Thank the media.
Yes, the Wall Street Journal caught it on June 10, several outlets thereafter, but even in those stories, details were sparse. Biden – hard-driven in Geneva to reopen the nuclear accord – decided to lift sanctions on “three former Iranian officials and several energy companies amid stalled nuclear negotiations, signaling Washington’s willingness to further ease economic pressure on Iran if the country changes course.” See, e.g., U.S. Lifts Some Iran Sanctions Amid Stalled Nuclear Talks. Bluntly, nothing justified lifting sanctions on Iran.
Weakness begets weakness, and Iran promptly demanded more. They are not yet at a new load of Obama-Biden cash for nothing but want a swift end to Trump-Pompeo sanctions. They can smell blood. They think Biden-Harris, weak and off cue, are desperate for an unverifiable Nuclear Deal 2.0.
They want to squeeze Biden for all they can get – and are.
Notably, if you scroll back to mid-2020, Trump and Pompeo foresaw potential Biden backsliding with Iran, so they imposed the added sanctions. Trump hit Iran’s oil income – because it finances terror through Hezbollah and Hamas, which recently fired 4000 missiles to Israel.
In October 2020, the Washington Post called them “crushing sanctions.” Hardly. But they were another weight on the scale, what some in the media promptly called a Biden “bargaining chip.” Trump would not let Iran continue to finance terror – or nuclear weapons development – so kept pressure on. That set of later 2020 sanctions reinforced Trump’s prior resolve to trigger “snap back” sanctions for Iranian duplicity. See, e.g., Trump sanctions could give Biden a bargaining chip in deal talks with Iran.
In short, Biden quietly undid what Trump had done – sanctions holding Iran accountable, pressing them to come clean, end nuclear weapons, stop massive human rights violations.
Trump-like Reagan with the Soviets – called a spade a spade, as in China. Biden balked.
China is pushing Biden hard to lift all sanctions on Iran, saying Iran is justified in not re-upping a nuclear accord – if Biden will not lift Trump’s sanctions. The two countries are playing Biden, as Russia and China are. If it were not so serious, it might be a Broadway play.
Only it is serious. What we are seeing is the confluence of ambitious, radical leadership in Iran, a fading American president, and aggressive adversaries – a wolfpack of China, Iran, and Russia, prowling the perimeter of low-burning guard fires.
What does all this mean?
First, it means that Republicans – and many moderate Democrats who place country, national security, long-term stability above politics – should sit up straight and understand the stakes.
Second, it means Iran will push hard to get all sanctions lifted now – and Biden may bend, break, betray the principle of “peace through strength.” Liberal media are pushing Biden to cave. See, e.g., For Biden, Iranian Hard-liner May Be Best Path to Restoring Nuclear Deal.
Third, it means – like “shadows on the cave wall,” from Plato’s Republic – China sees what is happening, understands the meaning of Biden’s weakness toward Iran and Russia.
China has an opportunity to make hay.
China may place fighters on their artificial islands, take a shot at islands disputed with Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, and across the region, or test a Taiwan strike. See, e.g., Foreign policy experts divided on whether Putin-Biden summit emboldened China | Fox News.
Nor is China alone.
Russia sees all this, coming off a Putin-boosting, walk-over encounter with Biden. Putin is immoral but smart enough to see when the dealer is asleep.
Biden looked more asleep than awake and mostly asleep when he was awake. Result?
Watch for more “criminal” ransomware hits on US critical infrastructure. Watch Ukraine, and in the spirit of MacArthur’s surprise action at Inchon, watch for surprises, perhaps Russian action in the Baltics.
In short, Iran is a live wire, a threat to Israel and the region, but needs Biden-Harris to lift Trump’s sanctions – and refinance more terror and mayhem. China is egging them on, Europeans afraid of Iran, tight with China, dependent on Russia for energy. Russia is watching, almost drooling.
Biden needs to wake up, and his closest national security friends on the Hill need to wake with him, saying: Joe, hold the line now, understand this Iranian leader – see the horrors he committed, do not appease. If you do, China, Russia, and half the world will seize this moment. Accidental wars missed opportunities, and world history are rife with regret. Time to take stock, see how things add up, and hold that line. Absolutely no appeasement.
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