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February 17, 2022 | Real Clear Defense

Biden’s Weakness Puts Strong Iran Deal Out of Reach

February 17, 2022 | Real Clear Defense

Biden’s Weakness Puts Strong Iran Deal Out of Reach

Talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna are entering a pivotal stage. President Joe Biden, viewed increasingly by Americans as a weak leader, is eager for a policy win. Sensing Biden’s weakness, Tehran hopes to foist a bad deal on Washington that no strong occupant of the oval office would or should accept.

When Americans believe a president is weak, it can result in hand wringing or jubilation among the respective partisans focused on the next election. But when foreign adversaries believe the president of the United States is weak, the consequences can be dire. Unfortunately, that dynamic is on full display in the administration’s nuclear negotiations in Vienna. It takes strength to reject a bad deal or negotiate one worthy of bipartisan support. Sadly, Biden seems to lack the fortitude to do either.

In fact, the Biden administration may be on the verge of accepting an agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran that abandons American victims of Iran’s terrorism, enriches a regime led by mass murderers, and provides it with a patient pathway to a nuclear weapons capability.

The White House, of course, rejects any suggestion regarding Biden’s weakness. But polling numbers reveal the reality. A Gallup Poll released on January 25 found that only 37% of Americans viewed President Joe Biden as “a strong and decisive leader.” That number is only slightly worse than the 38 percent of respondents who said Biden can manage the government effectively.

And the Gallup Poll is hardly an anomaly. YouGovAmerica interviewed a nationally-representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens between January 29 – February 1 and found that only 30 percent of adult U.S. citizens view Biden as a strong leader.

In the context of domestic politics, it is easy to see why most Americans don’t view Biden as a strong and effective leader. Biden, for example, frequently boasts about his decades of experience in the U.S. Senate, his relationships in that body, and his congressional know-how. Yet he has been unable to even persuade two hesitant senators in his own party to support his top legislative priority.

Unfortunately, Biden’s difficulties have not stopped at the water’s edge.

In Afghanistan, President Biden ignored the warnings of military commanders and the U.S. intelligence community and abandoned a beleaguered democracy to the depredations of the misogynist and murderous Taliban, conducting a withdrawal based on self-delusions that disregarded conditions on the ground and brushed aside calls for a course correction.

The chaos of the August withdrawal put U.S. service members in horrible situations and featured heart-wrenching images of Afghans clinging to the bottom of departing American aircraft. As a direct result of Biden’s decision, the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban once again governs Afghanistan, enjoying a safe haven there as it did on September 11, 2001.

Biden’s poor decision on Afghanistan, exacerbated by disastrous implementation, clearly made an impression in adversary capitals. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) top commander, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami proclaimed a month after the Afghanistan withdrawal that, “The America of today is not the America of the past 10, 20, or 30 years.”

Maj. Gen. Salami and his peers may have also noted with satisfaction Biden’s approach toward Tehran’s terror proxy in Yemen, the Houthis. Less than a month after assuming office, ignoring the Houthis’ continued terrorist activities, the Biden administration revoked the U.S. government’s designation of the group as a foreign terrorist organization. The Houthis, of course, simply continued their atrocities and redoubled their bombardment of civilians in Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis widened the Yemeni civil war last month by launching ballistic missiles at a base in the United Arab Emirates that the Houthis knew houses U.S. service members. If defenses had not intercepted the incoming missiles, many Americans might have died, not to mention Emiratis.

What tangible steps did Biden take to retaliate against the Houthis or their Iranian patrons? You guessed it: We saw little more than strongly worded statements from Washington.

This pattern of White House weakness may explain why the radical regime in Tehran sees an opportunity in Vienna.

A strong agreement worthy of bipartisan support in Washington would impose a permanent ban on Iran’s nuclear program and enforce that prohibition with an intrusive inspections regime that ensures compliance. Such an agreement would address the ballistic missiles Iran would likely use to deliver a nuclear weapon and would also not lift terrorism related sanctions until Tehran actually stops supporting terrorism.

In stark contrast, under Biden’s deeply flawed proposal, Tehran does not need to cheat to reach threshold nuclear-weapons capabilities. Merely by waiting for key constraints to expire, the regime can emerge over the next decade with an industrial-size enrichment program, a near-zero breakout time, an easier clandestine path to a nuclear warhead, long-range ballistic missiles, access to advanced conventional weaponry, greater regional dominance, and a more powerful economy, increasingly immunized against Western sanctions.

At that point, the clerical regime will be more dangerous than it is today. Accordingly, Biden’s Iran deal would likely force a future U.S. President to resort to military force as the only option to stop Iran’s development of nuclear weapons; the consequences of such a war against a more powerful enemy will be even more devastating.

So, where do we go from here?

Over 1,000 United States veterans and Gold Star families targeted by Iranian-supported terrorists wrote a letter to Biden on January 13, 2022, pleading with the president to not lift or suspend any sanctions “until all outstanding judgments and pending claims against Iran and the IRGC have been fully satisfied.” It’s unclear whether Biden will listen to those Americans who have suffered most due to Tehran’s terrorism.

The ultra-radical regime ruled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi hope they can bamboozle Biden into granting a multi-billion-dollar bonanza in return for concessions that can be quickly reversed. If past is prologue, Tehran would use that financial windfall to inch toward a nuclear weapon, increase support for terrorist groups, and build an intercontinental ballistic missile to eventually target the American homeland. Meanwhile, Tehran will use its new 25-year comprehensive strategic partnership with Beijing to build economic strength, making the regime less susceptible to future U.S.-led sanctions.

Perhaps that is why nearly 200 House Republicans sent a letter to President Biden on February 16 warning that any agreement with Iran not approved by Congress “will be temporary and non-binding and will meet the same fate as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).” Indeed, if a deal with Iran is worthy of support, the administration should be willing to submit it to the U.S. Senate for scrutiny and ratification as a treaty. A refusal by Biden to do so repeats the mistake of the Obama administration and tells Americans everything they need to know about the weakness of the potential agreement.

On April 14, 1984, then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz told an audience at Kansas State University that “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.” Unfortunately, in the nuclear talks in Vienna with the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Biden is casting the shadow of weakness over the bargaining table and the primary victim will be American national security.

It is better to have no deal than a bad deal. Biden sadly doesn’t seem to recognize a bad deal when he sees one. The next president (or the Israeli prime minister) may be forced to respond to Iran’s march to the bomb with military force because of Biden’s mistakes.

Mark Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power. Follow them on Twitter @mdubowitz and @Brad_L_Bowman. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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