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Don’t blame Biden’s appeasement policy on Trump

With the Iran nuclear deal about to be restored, administration apologists claim that the problem is the former president’s fault. But the “experts” that blast him are wrong.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna following the announcement of a nuclear deal with Iran on July 14, 2015. Credit: U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna following the announcement of a nuclear deal with Iran on July 14, 2015. Credit: U.S. State Department.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is the editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). He is also a senior contributor for The Federalist and a columnist for Newsweek, as well as writes for other publications.

After a year of stalling and inconclusive talks, the U.S. State Department has leaked to The New York Times that a new nuclear deal with Iran is about to be concluded. While Washington is claiming that it has finally persuaded the Iranians to go back to the 2015 agreement, there is little doubt that a new deal will, at best, have all of the old one’s shortcomings. The sunset clauses will remain in place as will much of the progress towards its nuclear goal that Iran has achieved in recent years. Biden’s decision to restore a waiver on some sanctions on Iran as a sweetener is a clear indication of the direction not just of the talks but of the nature of the treaty.

Although it is likely that Republicans will blast Biden’s move and speak of it as, like the administration’s Afghanistan debacle, proof of the president’s fatal weakness, there is little or nothing they can do to halt the drift towards more appeasement. Nor is there much that the current Israeli government, which is locked into a stance where it is afraid to publicly criticize Biden, can do to dissuade him.

While there will likely be some acknowledgements that Biden’s deal will be bad, his allies will claim that he had no choice. Democrats and their liberal Jewish allies will blame it all on former President Donald Trump and his 2018 decision to withdraw from former President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear pact.

This argument holds that Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and slapping of strong sanctions on Iran was a pointless political stunt that had no chance of succeeding. Biden’s apologists in the foreign-policy establishment, the media and liberal Jewish groups will claim that the only thing Trump accomplished was to free Iran from the fetters of Obama’s pact. They’ll say that allowed it to move closer to a weapon, leaving Biden no choice but to do what he could to restore the old deal and at least delay the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

But the claim that the debacle that is about to unfold is the fault of Trump rather than Biden is utterly false. The acceptance of this narrative throughout the mainstream media shows that what Obama aide Ben Rhodes called the media “echo chamber,” which mindlessly repeated the Democratic administration’s spin about Iran, remains alive and well.

It’s vital to remember that Obama’s Iran deal was a disaster. In order to achieve it, he discarded the tough international sanctions regime that had brought the Iranian economy to its knees and the theocratic regime to the negotiating table. Rather than stand his ground with Tehran, Obama and then-Secretary of State John Kerry reacted to Iran’s intransigence by conceding point after point.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as Obama’s deal is formally known, left the infrastructure of the Islamist regime’s nuclear program in place while the minimal restrictions on them were due to expire by the end of this decade, setting in motion events that would lead to Iran’s obtaining a weapon with the West’s permission. In addition to a loose inspection process that allowed Tehran to cheat with impunity, it also ignored its illegal missile program and its status as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, which it is using to advance its quest for regional hegemony.

The deal strengthened and enriched Iran. Contrary to Obama’s intentions, it also pushed Arab states into Israel’s arms as they rightly understood that the Americans were leaving them to their fate—meaning that the Jewish state was now a valued ally against their main foe rather than an enemy.

The sunset clauses alone made it imperative that Obama’s deal be renegotiated as soon as possible, lest the West sleepwalk into a situation where it was confronted with Iranian nukes with no time left to do anything about it. It was that fact, and not—as his detractors claim—a Trump temper tantrum that led to the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA.

Even after the disasters of the past year, many in the press still accept the claim that Biden is a foreign-policy expert because of his half-century as a fixture in Washington politics, though as former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously said, he was wrong about everything during that entire time. And Trump is still treated as a dolt who damaged America’s interests abroad.

The truth is the opposite. Whatever else one might think about Trump, he understood that the foreign-policy establishment that was hell-bent on appeasing Iran was wrong. Instead of listening to the experts, Trump came to the conclusion that the only way to stop Iran short of a war that he didn’t want was to turn back the clock to 2013, when Obama threw away the West’s strong hand. So he blew up the deal and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. And, contrary to what Obama expected, Trump was able to drag America’s reluctant European allies along with him, putting Iran in a desperate position.

Iran did use this as an excuse to expand their cheating and try to move closer to a bomb. But its leaders also knew that if they did go that final step to becoming a nuclear state, it would unite the West against them and make the military option that Trump didn’t wish to be baited into a more realistic scenario.

However, the Iranians had one thing going for them: the assurances from Democrats that if he was defeated for re-election, they would remove the sanctions and go back to the old weak deal. In an unprecedented act of treachery that ought to have rendered him a political pariah but was largely ignored by the media, Kerry advised the Iranians to simply sit tight and wait for the outcome of the 2020 elections to get what they wanted. And once the coronavirus pandemic made Trump’s re-election unlikely, that’s just what they did.

A new agreement that would correct the weaknesses of the old one was the goal of Biden’s administration when it took office last year. Or at least that was what both Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken told us. The fact that the State Department and his national security team were staffed with veteran Iran appeasers and apologists like Wendy Sherman and Robert Malley made it all the more likely that Biden’s determination to press Tehran to agree to a tougher deal that would actually accomplish the goal that Obama failed to achieve was more than questionable.

Those questions have now been answered as Biden appears poised to acquiesce to a deal that will once again strengthen the Iranian theocrats and place America’s allies in danger.

The argument that Biden had to do this to avoid a quick breakout to a nuclear Iran doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Trump had a viable strategy that would have meant gradually tightening sanctions and forcing other nations, including Russia and China, which were looking to help Iran out of this fix, to choose between doing business in the United States or Iran. Had Trump been allowed to carry it out in a second term, that would have likely given Iran little choice but to agree to the concessions that Obama and Biden lacked the intestinal fortitude to insist upon. Iran’s alternative would have been to face economic collapse and/or the prospect of a conflict it couldn’t win.

We can never know for sure if Trump would have succeeded in getting a stronger nuclear pact with Iran. But we do know that Biden’s appeasement policy guarantees that Iran will get a nuclear weapon in the near future. Blaming Biden’s weakness on Trump isn’t just a lie. It’s part of a narrative about upcoming diplomatic catastrophes that will attempt to shift the blame for the danger that will face Israel, the Arab states and the West from where it belongs—on Obama, Kerry, Biden and Blinken—and onto the one American leader who tried to actually do something to avert this peril.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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