The Biden administration has been pursuing a reckless policy towards Russia that has far-reaching implications that threaten American, European and Israeli security; embolden Iran; and undermine opportunities for expanding the Abraham Accords. That is a foreign policy trifecta disaster.
Everyone understands President Joe Biden’s reluctance to do anything that Russia might interpret as sufficiently threatening to escalate the conflict to war with the U.S. He is calibrating the weapons supply by providing some weapons to defend itself and go on the offensive. He still stubbornly refuses to supply aircraft or long-range weapons that would allow Ukraine to hit targets in Russia. We have helped prevent Russia from overrunning the country but not enough to expel the invaders completely. The problem is that the fear of President Vladimir Putin using nuclear weapons is reinforcing their deterrent value to other nations, notably Iran.
Why would anyone expect Iran to give up its nuclear ambition now? Even before the war in Ukraine, Iran was encouraged by the success of North Korea in holding the West at bay and keenly aware of the fates of the nukeless Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi.
Even with a bomb, or several, Iran does not pose the same danger as Russia with its nearly 6,000 nuclear warheads and ICBMs that can reach the U.S. Still, a regime that has expressed a willingness to use nuclear weapons, has missiles that can reach Israel and Europe, and wants to develop an ICBM is a menace. Iran need not use nukes in a first strike, the mere possession of them will deter any potential attacker. Iran can use nuclear blackmail against its neighbors and make it infinitely riskier for Israel to take on Hezbollah. Anyone who thinks the Iranian would play by the same MAD (mutual assured destruction) rules as the Russians doesn’t know anything about the rulers and their theology.
The Iranians understand why the U.S. would not attack Russia but based on the way we cut and run from Afghanistan, and failed to respond to their provocations, the mullahs see Biden as weak. Furthermore, with our attention focused on Russia-Ukraine and, secondarily, on China, they have little reason to fear any American use of force to prevent their intensifying march toward nuclearization. The administration would likely be even angrier at any Israeli strike that could lead to a conflagration in the Middle East and distract from the focus on the big two.
Still, how can Biden stand by and do nothing as the Iranians provide Russia with drones to attack Ukraine? Israel has responded to Iran setting up factories and deploying forces in Syria. Is there nothing the U.S. can do to prevent Iran’s weapons delivery to Russia? A bill introduced in Congress will do nothing but impose yet more useless sanctions.
The administration has already continued former President Donald Trump’s policy—which Biden had ridiculed—of enacting restrictions on numerous individuals and entities, but they have had zero impact on Iran’s nuclear progress. The most critical sanctions designed to prevent Iranian oil exports have all but collapsed as Iran has found ways to circumvent them, and China (a signatory to the nuclear deal) has been a willing collaborator in importing most of that oil.
Biden’s unwillingness to take military action against Iran has allowed the country to escalate its violations of the nuclear agreement. The latest news is that Iran is using more sophisticated centrifuges to enrich uranium. Its stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% (90% purity is needed for a bomb) has grown by about 30%. Iran has enough enriched uranium to produce weapons-grade uranium for at least two nuclear weapons, and the breakout time for making enough for one bomb may be as short as one month.
One thing the administration can do, even with the present constraints, is support the protests in Iran. Since this would have to be secret, we may not know if or what Biden is doing to help. The one public step, seeking to provide internet service to Iranians whose access is blocked by the government, is necessary but insufficient. The Iranian regime already blames the Zionists and us for the unrest so doing more to foment a revolution will not give the mullahs any more fodder and might convince the Iranian people that we are finally on their side and willing to show it.
Yet another consequence of U.S. policy has been to lose leverage with Saudi Arabia, which has likely killed the chance of the Saudis joining the Abraham Accords during Biden’s term. The spat with Saudi Arabia is what is called an “own goal” in soccer. The Saudis, like a host of other vile regimes, have been violating human rights for decades without the U.S. publicly humiliating them. Prodded by the media, which believes our policy should be based solely on retribution for the horrific murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Biden decided to treat the de facto ruler of the kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), as a pariah. This is the man who most likely ordered the killing; he also could rule the kingdom and control the oil spigot for decades to come.
It was no surprise that when Biden went to Riyadh to beg MBS to increase oil production to help the U.S. economy and save himself and his party from electoral disaster, all he got was a fist bump. Later, MBS gave him the figurative finger by allying with Russia to reduce oil production, undermining the allied effort to cut revenues funding Putin’s war. After touting declining gas prices, Biden has to explain why they are rising again on the eve of the midterms.
Between failing to stop Iran from threatening the kingdom and insulting the Crown Prince, Biden has alienated the Saudis and cannot expect them to do anything, like normalizing relations with Israel, to help him.
MBS and his family still care first and foremost about keeping their royal heads on their shoulders and understand that America provides the best guarantee of remaining in one piece. They need us more than we need them, but that does not mean they cannot hurt our economy. Despite congressional bluster and threats to stop weapons sales, they serve too many interests to be a serious threat. The Pentagon wants them to lower production costs and the president and Congress need them to get some of the money we pay for oil back and to create jobs in dozens of congressional districts and key states Biden needs to win the electoral college.
Liberals may blanch at the phrase but an “axis of evil” now exists with Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. It is a severe mistake for the administration to focus all its attention on the first three and stand on the sidelines while Iran joins the nuclear club and aids our enemy in Ukraine.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby,” “Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”