October 23, 2023 | New York Post

Biden must take Iran threat seriously — and wage economic war

October 23, 2023 | New York Post

Biden must take Iran threat seriously — and wage economic war

Iran-backed militias are shooting at American troops in Iraq and Syria and getting away with it.

On Monday morning, the militias targeted US bases with attack drones for the third time in a week.

The Pentagon says Iran is ultimately responsible, but that seems to be an observation, not a commitment to act.

The militias have launched more than 80 attacks on US troops since President Biden took office, but there have only been two counterstrikes.

American warplanes could exact a heavy price from the militias, but US troops on the ground may first need reinforcements.

There are roughly 2,500 servicemembers in Iraq and 900 in Syria. Their primary mission is to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State.

American troops have local partners committed to that mission, but it is not clear they would risk their necks if Iran-backed militias launched a full-scale offensive to retaliate for US airstrikes.

Hamas’ stunning ability to overrun Israeli bases the morning of Oct. 7 provides a stark reminder of the cost of underestimating the creativity of a low-tech adversary.

The question, then, is whether Biden is prepared to spend the necessary political capital to win support — especially from his own party — to send several thousand reinforcements to ensure US bases remain secure.

Biden has hesitated to cast Iran as a threat. In his Thursday televised address from the Oval Office, he only made two passing references to Tehran, even though it provides $100 million per year to Palestinian terror groups.

So the first thing the administration needs to change is its mindset. Then it can strengthen the US presence in Iraq and Syria and begin holding the militias accountable for their aggression.

Of equal or greater importance is making Iran pay for the violence it sponsors. To paraphrase Naftali Bennett, the former Israeli prime minister, you have to target the head of the octopus, not get wrapped up with its tentacles.

The assault, however, should also be on the economic front.

Just because the militias prefer rockets and drones does not mean the United States should limit itself. And it is on the economic front where the Biden administration has committed the greatest malpractice.

As part of its campaign of “maximum pressure,” the Trump administration mounted an aggressive sanctions campaign with the goal of bankrupting Iran.

In November 2019, Tehran’s strapped finances forced it to cut subsidies for gasoline, sparking nationwide protests.

The regime deployed its security forces to bash heads and gun down protesters.

But it did not compromise with Washington, likely understanding the pressure would lift if Biden won the coming election.

In office, Biden promptly rewarded Iran for just participating in nuclear negotiations, not for actual concessions.

Tehran repaid this kindness by dramatically accelerating its nuclear program.

But nothing could deter the White House from its quixotic effort to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

One official told Bloomberg News the administration was deliberately avoiding enforcement of oil sanctions that are especially painful for a petrostate like Iran.

My colleague Saeed Ghaseminejad, a financial economist, estimates that Tehran netted an additional $26-$29 billion from lax enforcement.

Biden also gave Iran access to $10 billion of frozen funds in Iraq and delivered a $6 billion ransom for the release of five US hostages.

Altogether, Biden’s relief package for Iran has been worth an estimated $50 billion.

What Americans learned Oct. 7 was that Biden was paying off Iran while it was funding, training and equipping Hamas as it prepared to carry out the most lethal massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

That should have opened the eyes of both Biden and his advisers to the fact their strategy of maximum deference to Iran was a total failure.

If Iran does not have hard currency, it may have to start making difficult choices between funding its proxies and bankrolling welfare measures for a population of almost 90 million immiserated by the clerical regime’s gross corruption and mismanagement.

In November 2019, reeling from US sanctions, Tehran cut subsidies for gasoline, sparking nationwide protests.

A Reuters investigation found that Iranian security forces may have gunned down as many 1,500 protesters to keep the regime in power.

If Biden and his advisers can swallow their pride and reverse course on Iran, overwhelming bipartisan support is all but certain. Tehran’s unapologetic support for the Hamas massacre has woken up most of Capitol Hill’s advocates of engagement.

The sanctions campaign should be more than just a reversion, however, to US policy circa 2019-2020.

It should include new measures to target the tentacles of the octopus as well as the head.

That includes countries that have provided sanctuary to Hamas, such as Turkey and Qatar.

America can’t fight terrorists effectively while letting billions flow to their sponsor in Tehran.

David Adesnik is a senior fellow and director of research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Politics and Economy Iran Sanctions Iran-backed Terrorism Sanctions and Illicit Finance