Biden’s Approach to Iran: Here’s what Republicans and Democrats are saying about the Biden Administration’s approach to Iran. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore. Iran Talks in Vienna, July 14 2015. Credit: Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äusseres.
Top Story: Biden’s Approach to Iran
Matthew Lee, writing in the AP, reported last Thursday, February 18th, that “The Biden administration said it’s ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.” In follow-up reporting this past Tuesday, Lee reported that Biden’s early outreach is getting a “chilly early response from Tehran.”
Then, last night, a trio of reporters from the AP said, “a US airstrike in Syria targeted facilities belonging to a powerful Iranian-backed Iraqi armed group, killing one of their militiamen and wounding a number of others. The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops.” Here’s what both sides are saying about the Biden Administration’s approach to Iran:
On The Right
Conservatives see Biden reinstating what they characterize as an Obama administration policy of appeasement with respect to Iran. They believe the Biden team is rewarding Iran by not requiring real concessions, thus empowering the Mullahs to wreak havoc throughout the Middle East.
Helen Raleigh writes in The Federalist that “The foundation of the 2015 nuclear deal was the Obama administration and the European Union’s willful ignorance of and blind trust in the Iranian government.” She believes that “The Trump administration pulled out of this bad deal and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran in 2018” in order to “weaken Iran’s clerical authoritarian regime so the United States could negotiate a more effective nuclear deal.” In short, “The sanctions worked as they were intended.” Instead of pressing on with this successful policy, Raleigh says, “President Biden acted as if the much-weakened Iran is the one that has a stronger hand than the United States.” She further explains that this policy will have wide-reaching foreign policy consequences because “when our adversaries perceive American desperation, they will take advantage of the situation and extract maximum concessions. That’s exactly what Iran is doing.”
Charles Hurt also takes the Biden administration to task in The Washington Times for a poor Iran policy but goes further, accusing the Biden team of illegal behavior. Hurt references a report in The Washington Times that “reveals that Monsieur Kerry kept up his torrid bromance with Mr. Zarif during the entire Trump administration.” As he explains, “These relationships blossomed into what high-level national security and intelligence sources say allowed the Iranian regime to bypass Mr. Trump and work directly with Obama administration veterans that Tehran hoped would soon return to power in Washington.” The Biden administration might in fact face legal trouble since this “was a flagrant violation of the Logan Act — that antique law so preciously revered back when Democrats were trying to throw Trump officials in jail.” In short, Hurt contends that the Biden administration and their political allies “were actively undermining the foreign policy of an elected administration. And they were doing that AFTER Americans voters had clearly chosen a starkly different path for dealing with the terrorist mullahs of Iran.” Hurt concludes that “By any measure, these clandestine efforts violated the Logan Act, not to mention flagrant collusion with an avowed enemy of the United States.”
Finally, George Friedman speaks to the regional landscape from a Realpolitik perspective in Geopolitical Futures. As he explains, “The [Iran] agreement was criticized at the time for three reasons. First, Iran was capable of both permitting inspections and evading them, by shifting the location of the nuclear program.” Second, “The agreement did not address Iran’s relations with other countries in the region, against which Iran has carried out covert and overt operations.” Finally, “It did not address Iran’s missile program, which seems to involve missiles of multiple ranges and payloads….if Iran were abandoning its nuclear program, why spend scarce resources on these kinds of missiles?” Friedman continues, juxtaposing Obama’s and Trump’s approaches. As he sees it, Obama’s approach was “not to weaken Iran economically but to focus entirely on the issue at hand,” by which he means nuclear weapons. However, “Trump chose to weaken Iran economically in order to expand the goals of the agreement to cover missiles.” Friedman points out that the Trump administration policy broadly disempowered Iran while encouraging unity among Iran’s Arab rivals. Friedman writes that “By the end of the Trump administration, the map of the region had shifted, and with it Iran’s position. Its economy was in steep decline, the hostility of the Arab world was consolidated, and the assumption was that between coalitions and economic costs, the Iranian political and military operations in the Arab world would decline.” Friedman concludes that the problem becomes even more complex when you consider the delicate power balance in the region that keeps in check “other forces the US doesn’t want to see.”
The right adamantly opposes rejoining the Iran deal, which they see as an exercise in appeasement that will negatively impact US foreign policy in the Middle East and perhaps even beyond.
On The Left
While foreign policy commentators on the left are in agreement that a renewed JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran is desirable, they are split as to how to best achieve this. Some believe that President Biden should immediately re-enter the deal with no strings attached, while moderates promote re-entry only after Iran makes concessions.
In Salon, a duo of writers calls out the Biden Administration for filling his administration with “American neocons and hawks” who “appear to be flexing their muscles to kill Biden’s commitment to diplomacy at birth.” They believe that Biden’s “well-known hawkish foreign policy views make him dangerously susceptible to their arguments” and view this issue as a “test of Biden’s previously subservient relationship with Israel.” As they see it, “Biden should have announced US re-entry as one of his first executive orders” since “all the provisions of the agreement will be back in force and will work exactly as they did before Trump opted out. Iran would be subject to the same IAEA inspections and reports as before. Whether Iran is in compliance or not will be determined by the IAEA, not unilaterally by the US.” The Salon writers believe that “the call for nuclear disarmament in the Middle East would focus on Israel, not Iran.” Instead of focusing on what they see as the bigger menace, Israel, “Successive US administrations have chosen to cry wolf over nonexistent nuclear weapons in Iraq and Iran to justify besieging their governments, imposing deadly sanctions on their people, invading Iraq, and threatening Iran.” The writers fear that the longer Biden waits to deliver concessions, the easier it becomes for Iran’s hard-liners to gain influence. They point out that “In November the Iranian parliament passed a law that forces its government to halt nuclear inspections and boost uranium enrichment if US sanctions are not eased by the last week of February.” The writers conclude by describing the “Republicans’ and Democrats’ good cop-bad cop routine” as ‘fundamentally aggressive, coercive, and destructive’.”
Bloomberg’s Editorial Board promotes a more measured approach to Iran. They write that “Biden is right to talk, but he shouldn’t deviate from compliance first, then sanctions relief.” In a way, they endorse the existing policy and further point out that “Iran has been moving in the wrong direction, abandoning obligation after obligation, enriching more uranium and to a higher level than the pact allows. Most recently, it’s produced uranium metal, used in nuclear warheads, and has threatened to renege on previous pledges never to develop such weapons. Now it’s saying that if sanctions aren’t lifted, it will shut down snap inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency from Feb. 23.” The Editors endorse negotiations from a strong position, saying “The USaaF and its European partners should make clear that Iran is making compromise less likely, not more. The fastest way to win sanctions relief would be for Iran to lift its latest threat and begin to reverse its previous violations.” They end with a hopeful notion that Iranian leadership will “recognize that in Biden they have a willing negotiator.”
Writing for The New Yorker, Robin Wright also sees a difficult road ahead for the Biden administration. She writes that “Reviving the nuclear deal, the most significant pact in more than a quarter-century to limit the spread of the world’s deadliest weapon, is already proving complicated for the Biden team.” As she tells it, “Trump set in motion a cascading set of events to destroy the Iran accord…He withdrew the United States from the accord, in 2018, and began imposing sanctions on more than a thousand of the Islamic Republic’s most prominent leaders, banks, businesses, foundations, and individuals, as well as the military, in order to create leverage over Tehran.” Although Wright cites several concessions from Biden, she writes that Iranian officials are unimpressed and they’ve expressed “that Biden’s approach on Iran is no different from Trump’s.” She quotes the Iranian Foreign Minister as saying, “Biden claims that Trump’s maximum-pressure policy was maximum failure, but they have not changed that policy. The United States is addicted to pressure, sanctions, and bullying. It does not work with Iran.” Wright is less than sanguine in concluding that “Whatever the intentions of either Washington or Tehran, diplomacy is not getting off to a good start. The danger over time is that it will devolve into a Shakespearean tragedy.”
Biden’s Approach to Iran is causing a split on the left. Progressives largely see Iran as a victim of an aggressive American empire, while their more moderate counterparts view the country as a threat that requires measured negotiation.
Flag This: Biden’s Approach to Iran
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center poll conducted at the time of the original Iran deal, just 38% supported it (among those with knowledge of the agreement) while 48% disapproved. Three years later, in 2018, a Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll found that 42% supported remaining in the deal, 29% wanted to leave it, and 28% had no view. Finally, a Toronto-based Iran poll in conjunction with the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies found that Iranians are also split. Of Iranians polled, 69% do not want to negotiate until the United States makes concessions, while only 28% think Iran should immediately pursue a new agreement with the United States.
Bonus: The Right’s Reaction to Missile Strike
Bonus: The Left’s Reaction to Missile Strike
Flag Poll: Biden’s Approach to Iran
Do you think the Biden Administration should push to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.