The United States has done much to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin in order for this ruthless megalomaniac to feel a small degree of pain for the tremendous suffering he has inflicted upon the Ukrainian people. Among these measures includes an attempt to hermetically seal off—or at least drastically reduce—oil exports from Russia, including sanctioning certain companies involved with the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline.
Yet as we are trying to neuter one evil, we have been virtually groveling to empower another. At the very same time Putin was declaring his malevolent intentions on Ukraine—and even during the invasion and ensuing war—Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has demanded a “written guarantee” that sanctions imposed on Iran “do not in any way damage our right to free and full economic and investment cooperation, and military-technical cooperation with the Islamic State.”
In its utter desperation to reach a deal with the Islamic Republic, the Biden administration has capitulated to this Russian demand.
But it gets worse. According to David Albright and Sarah Burkhard of the Institute for Science and International Security, the Russians have requested that Rosatom, the Russian nuclear facility, be allowed to deal with Iran. Rosatom was responsible for the seizure and dangerous attack and consequent blaze of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, the largest power plant in Europe, as well as Chernobyl.
Again, the United States has capitulated to this demand, which will preserve billions of dollars in business for Moscow.
Why, when the entire world is being confronted with the enormity of Putin’s evil, are we allowing the Russians these lucrative and expansive loopholes?
A good part of this has to deal with two profound failures. The first is a failure to connect the dots from one malign autocracy to another; it’s as though the United States can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Most folks are aware that Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, with massive funding through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to its terrorist proxies, including but not limited to Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Houthis. Most are also aware that with their toxic mix of theocracy and hegemonic aspiration, Iranian nuclear and territorial ambitions will not be appeased by any deal, which will only “kick the can down the road” for a few short years.
Neither a new deal nor the existing one before it—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—did not require Iran to give up its nuclear program but merely delay it for a few years. Most of the world realizes that the Iranians have been cheating all along. So much so that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Oct. 23 in an NBC interview that is was “impossible to reconstruct a picture” of whether or not the Iranians have complied with the deal” because of the number of times it has been denied access to suspicious sites.
Most are aware of the infamous “land bridge” that Iran has erected from Tehran to Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut all the way to the Mediterranean, and that they have replicated in the horn of Africa and in Latin America. This poses a long-term national security risk to the United States, as it creates an immediate existential risk to the State of Israel and its Gulf allies.
We also know that none of the estimated $90 billion that the Islamic Republic is getting will trickle down to the people on the street. Rather, it will go to support its terrorist proxies, nuclear program, and ballistic missile and drone development.
Yet when speaking about the Iranian nuclear negotiations with certain congressional offices, they all concede the flaws of this deal, as well as the 2015 one. Many feel, however, that in this bad situation left, with no better alternative.
This brings us to the second failure of our negotiators in Vienna: a profound failure of imagination.
The U.S State Department and most of its foreign-policy establishment have demonstrated that they cannot think outside the box to come up with some untried, creative solutions. Officials seem to return to the refrain that it is “this deal or war” and have exhibited a huge fear of military engagement t the entire world.
First of all, no deal is better than a bad deal. The devil is in the details.
Secondly, negotiations without the credible threat of military engagement only empower the most ruthless. Putin knows this well. He drew a great deal of strength from Biden’s remark, back in January, that “it’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion,” (referring to Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine). Putin draws even more strength from Biden’s hesitation to give air cover to Ukraine with his response, “but that will bring us into World War III,” showing that he is intimidated by the Russian bear.
There are many enormous fissures within the Islamic Republic that we should be working to enlarge. What America should not be doing is growing the coffers of this brutal regime with billions upon billions of dollars. This will only serve to cement the regime’s rule for generations to come.
And it will come back to bite us in the backside.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.