If the Biden administration manages to reach an agreement with Iran in Vienna that, like its predecessor, confers legitimacy on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s nuclear program, it will be the third watershed display of American weakness in fewer than two years.
Caving to the Islamic Republic would join the U.S. military’s handover of Bagram Air Base to the Taliban and the Minneapolis Police Department’s surrender of its 3rd Precinct building to rioters as the most consequential projections of American weakness in the P.C. (Post-COVID) era.
If what happens in Minneapolis seems unrelated to American foreign policy, consider that the lessons of law enforcement on the local and state level are applicable to the national level — hence the metaphor of the U.S. as “the world’s police.” How a city, state, or nation responds to extreme provocation and aggression influences the behavior of future potential threats. Weakness, especially retreat, invites more aggression, while forceful opposition deters aggressors.
On the national level, Ferguson is the model for successful opposition to aggressors, Baltimore is the model for weakness, and Minneapolis is the model for retreat. On the world stage, the Biden administration seems intent on following the Minneapolis model.
After Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014, there were peaceful but then violent protests. On November 24, 2014, a grand jury announced that it would not indict Wilson. Shortly thereafter, Brown’s stepfather exhorted a crowd of protesters in front of the Ferguson Police Department building to “burn this bitch down.” Against weeks of rock, brick, and Molotov cocktail attacks, the Ferguson Police held their ground and eventually restored order. It was not pretty, but it was effective.
In 2015, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ordered police to stand down after riots erupted following the funeral of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody. She explained her rationale as a “balancing act,” designed “to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech” while also giving “those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”
When protests following George Floyd’s death turned violent, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey followed the Baltimore model, ordering police to back off and signaling that there would be no consequences for theft or property destruction. Frey watched as vandals destroyed the Lake Street Target, looted dozens of liquor stores, and smashed glass storefronts of hundreds of businesses.
Even after rioters gathered at the 3rd Precinct building, throwing rocks and bottles and setting fire to police cars, they were met with minimal, non-lethal force. By the time Governor Tim Walz called the Minnesota National Guard, it was too late.
On May 28, in a futile effort to purchase peace by giving up territory, Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo decided to abandon the 3rd Precinct. Hastily retreating officers left behind weapons and lost their building, but peace did not follow. As Sgt. Sherral Schmidt said, “It did nothing to quell anything.” Indeed, it signaled surrender.
Minneapolis became the first of many American cities to give up on policing in 2020. Anyone who lives there knows that the city and its suburbs have not recovered. Police are on mop-up duty, demoralized, and in retreat, while residents wonder if sanity will ever return.
Had President Joe Biden paid attention to the policing failures of 2020, he might have recognized that turning Afghanistan over to the Taliban would buy not peace. He claimed to be merely following Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, but the foolish decision to abandon Bagram before evacuating Americans was his call.
Though the U.S. Army assured reporters that Bagram was transferred to the Afghan military in a weeks-long “closely coordinated” effort, one Afghan soldier who worked on the base told The Wall Street Journal that “It just went dark” on July 2. After the power was cut, the looting began.
Like Minneapolis’s 3rd Precinct, Bagram Air Base was more than just a symbol. Along with hundreds of vehicles and tons of equipment, the compound also housed a hospital and a jail with thousands of Taliban and ISIS prisoners. The sudden departure emboldened the Taliban and set the tone for the chaotic scene at Kabul airport in which 13 Americans and many more Afghans were killed. The man who carried out the bombing, Abdul Rahman Al-Logari, was one of those released ISIS prisoners.
As Barack Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden witnessed how U.S. withdrawal from Iraq enabled the emergence of ISIS from the remains of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s defeated Al-Qaeda franchise. He also helped push the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal), legalizing Iran’s illegal nuclear program in exchange for Khamenei’s empty promise to delay uranium enrichment and bomb construction for 10-15 years. And then Biden saw how the JCPOA emboldened those it was supposed to appease as Iran took U.S. sailors hostage and cheated on the deal from the start.
Many key members of Biden’s diplomatic corps were also members of Obama’s administration and are complicit in its diplomatic failures, yet they are repeating their mistakes. By removing Trump’s sanctions against the mullahs and their missile makers, they signaled weakness from the beginning. In return, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps now attacks Americans without fear of reprisal and regularly threatens Israelis with war. Iranian scientists enrich uranium and test ballistic missile under the guise of a space program while Biden’s diplomats practically beg for yet more talks in Vienna.
Like the surrender of Minneapolis’s 3rd Precinct and capitulation to the Taliban, a second nuclear deal with Iran will ensure even more aggression. It will also make war, perhaps even nuclear war, inevitable.
Victory does not always go to those who project power or wield superior strength, but defeat invariably goes to those who project weakness and flee from a righteous fight. Those who give up land for peace usually end up with neither.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsburg-Milstein fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.