In an election year, everything that a president does is fair game for political potshots. So the sniping at the Trump administration’s policy towards Iran from Democrats is to be expected. But do they have a sensible alternative?
In one of the few moments devoted to foreign policy at this week’s Democratic National Convention, former Secretary of State John Kerry lambasted Trump’s foreign policy as a “blooper reel” that embarrassed America, and left it isolated and weaker.
America’s European allies agree. They have fought Trump tooth and nail for three-and-half years on most issues, but especially on Iran. Like Kerry, one of the architects of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Tehran, the Europeans, as well as China and Russia, were all opposed to Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear pact.
Last week, Beijing and Moscow vetoed a U.S. effort to have the U.N. Security Council renew the arms embargo that was imposed on Iran in 2015 as part of the nuclear deal. And this week, they are set again to thwart Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s demand that the United Nations “snap back” the international sanctions on Tehran that were lifted when Obama’s agreement was put in place.
As far as the Democrats, who are having a virtual convention to nominate former Vice President Joe Biden for the presidency, are concerned this is just fine. From their point of view, anything that stymies anything Trump does is good, regardless of the consequences. They seem to think that any damage done to U.S. interests or security or that of our allies can be magically corrected by Trump’s ouster.
Indeed, in that respect, Kerry was an appropriate spokesman for his party since he has been openly advising Iran to simply wait Trump out. As The Boston Globe first reported in May 2018, Kerry has been colluding with his former negotiating partner, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and telling him the best course of action was to stall under Trump was defeated for re-election, after which a Democratic administration would revive the dangerously weak nuclear pact and drop the sanctions.
From that perspective, the worse it gets for Trump and Pompeo at the United Nations, the more it reinforces their belief that a President Biden will restore trust in America’s foreign policy, reassemble the international coalition that negotiated the Iran deal and presumably eliminate the problem entirely.
The problem is that contrary to Kerry’s assertion in his convention speech, the Obama-Biden administration did not “eliminate” the Iran nuclear threat. Desperate for a deal at any price, it merely kicked the can down the road with a deal that, contrary to Obama’s re-election campaign promises, did not eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. It actually gave it the imprimatur of international legitimacy and, by including sunset clauses that would cause the limitations on its efforts to start expiring within a decade, would actually guarantee that Iran would achieve its nuclear ambition with the approval of the signatories.
That meant that sooner or later—and we are five years closer to that point than we were in 2015—the West was going to have to renegotiate the terms of the pact if an Iranian nuclear weapon was to be averted.
Trump decided that starting the process to clean up the mess that Obama and Kerry created couldn’t be delayed. He withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran in order to force it to agree to discarding the sunset provisions, as well as to address the issues that Obama, Kerry and Biden ignored, such as its illegal missile building, support of international terrorism and its use of its terrorist auxiliaries to achieve regional hegemony by effectively exercising control of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Anthony Blinken, Biden’s chief foreign-policy advisor, promised that sanctions on Iran wouldn’t be lifted until Tehran returns to compliance with the deal. But merely returning to the pre-Trump status quo doesn’t solve the problem of the sunset provisions or that of the missiles or terrorism. Once sanctions are dropped, Biden doesn’t have a chance to get an Iran that would be immeasurably strengthened by the end of Trump’s sanctions to make further concessions.
Iran is a major threat to the independence and security of all Arab states in the region. That’s why the United Arab Emirates decided to negotiate an agreement to normalize relations with Israel, a country that it now sees as a strategic ally and an asset in the struggle against Tehran. The chaos in Lebanon that the recent explosions in Beirut highlighted is also directly related to Iran’s ability to exercise influence over that failed state via its Hezbollah terrorist errand boys.
More appeasement of the Islamic regime by Biden wouldn’t address any of these problems. It would only make Iran more dangerous.
The spectacle of Democrats tacitly supporting the efforts of Britain and France, as well as of China and Russia, to enable the arms embargo to expire or to veto the snapping back of sanctions is appalling. It does support the idea that Biden would be far more popular abroad than Trump has been. But it also illustrates the problem with an approach that is solely based on the idea that all of Trump’s ideas are bad.
Trump is a flawed leader who sometimes sends contradictory signals about foreign policy. Nevertheless, what the world needs from the United States right now is not Biden’s desire to please countries that are blithely ignoring the peril in the Middle East, like those in Europe, or actively seeking to make things worse, as is the case with China and Russia.
What it needs is a president willing to stand alone (albeit with the support of Israel and many Arab states) in order to act to deal with the Iranian threat via unilateral sanctions that will—whether Europe or China or Russia like it or not—compel other nations to abide by U.S. demands.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.