January 30, 2024 | The Washington Times

Biden won’t acknowledge the failure of Obama’s Iran strategy

January 30, 2024 | The Washington Times

Biden won’t acknowledge the failure of Obama’s Iran strategy

Three years into President Biden‘s presidency, the continuation of the Obama administration’s Iran policy — getting money to the mullahs and relaxing sanctions in hopes of friendship — has resulted in disaster: Three American soldiers were killed over the weekend in a drone attack by Tehran-backed militias.

Iran is wreaking havoc across the Middle East. The regime’s proxies are striking U.S. assets and personnel in Iraq, in Syria, and off the coast of Yemen. They are striking Israel from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. The entire region is on the verge of a wider war.

All of this was avoidable. The Trump administration had Iran contained through its maximum pressure policy. But the Biden administration has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The lax enforcement of sanctions in particular has boosted Iran‘s revenue and widened its access to its foreign currency reserves.

Since Mr. Biden took office in 2021, Iran has exported over $100 billion in oil. According to United Against Nuclear Iran‘s Tanker Trackers database, oil exports increased from around 800 thousand barrels per day on average under President Donald Trump to 1.4 million barrels per day on average in 2023.

Not surprisingly, this relaxed sanction enforcement has benefited Iran‘s proxies. In the case of the Houthis, Tehran facilitates a Yemeni oil-smuggling network to sell Iranian oil, transferring the proceeds to the Houthis through Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned this network while targeting other figures associated with the Houthis in recent weeks.

But these are half measures. As long as significant oil revenue keeps coming in, significant funds will continue to flow to the regime’s proxies.

But oil money is not the only problem. Iran‘s non-oil exports have also skyrocketed. From March 2022 to March 2023, the regime exported over $53 billion in non-oil goods, a significant increase from $35 billion two years earlier. An alarming percentage of this flows to Iraq, which serves as a hub for sanctions evasion and money laundering for Tehran.

Over the years, the Treasury Department has targeted networks of Iraqi companies and nationals that have been working with the IRGC Quds Force in Iraq to facilitate the financing of terrorism and money laundering. Again, this has been insufficient. Iran-backed militant groups continue to accumulate cash and influence.

These funds also translate directly to violence. With funding and weapons supplied by Iran, these militias have attacked U.S. bases more than 150 times since Mr. Biden took office. Remarkably, most of these attacks have gone unanswered.

The problem is not just one of deterrence. The real problem is the Biden administration’s refusal to acknowledge the unraveling of the Iran policy that originated under President Barack Obama. Last year, Washington granted Iran access to $6 billion of its frozen reserves in South Korea and over $12 billion in gas and electricity export revenue in Iraq.

That greater access to cash afforded by the Biden administration has led directly to an increase in funding that Iran provides to its regional allies and proxies. Israeli sources assert that Iran increased its funding of Hamas last year from $100 million to $350 million. The Telegraph reported that Iran has invested more money to foment violence out of Yemen, recruiting and paying Houthi fighters $100 a month or more in an impoverished country. This is in addition to the lethal weapons and military equipment Tehran sends to the Houthis — either by sea or through Oman.

All of this has enabled Iran and its proxies to spark a Middle Eastern war that only seems to be intensifying. This is posing a direct threat to the lives of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, in Syria, and off the coast of Yemen. This has also threatened the populations of Israel, Jordan, Egypt and other nations. It has seriously encumbered global energy security and shipping, which is inexorably leading to domestic and global inflation. More broadly, it undermines the U.S.-led global order.

The Biden administration must make immediate changes to its policy to curtail Iran’s capacity for chaos. A two-pronged approach is urgently needed. This involves reducing the military capabilities of Tehran and its proxies by striking back at the proxies that strike American bases and warships and also intensifying economic warfare through stringent enforcement of U.S. sanctions.

But even if the U.S. begins to change course, a wider acknowledgment is needed. President Biden must understand that the Middle East will never see peace as long as the regime in Tehran remains in place. The downfall of the Islamic Republic is achievable. It can be done through a combination of maximum pressure on the regime and maximum support for the Iranian people.

Saeed Ghasseminejad is a senior adviser on Iran at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on X @SGhassemenijad.


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