Biden's (Iran) Deal That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Column: Appeasing Iran endangers America—and the world

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June 16, 2023

Imagine you are a senior national security official. A revolutionary foreign power has worked for decades to undermine American strength and American alliances in a critical region. It is the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism and has funded and directed proxy forces that have killed and maimed U.S. personnel. Its goal is to drive the United States from its corner of the globe and eliminate America’s closest ally in the Greater Middle East. It has spent the past four presidential administrations building the military and technical infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons while concealing and lying about its program. It violates human rights with impunity and has spent the past nine months brutally suppressing a popular revolt against its theocratic rule. It supplies the drones and other weaponry that Russia uses to prosecute an illegal and barbaric war on the sovereign nation of Ukraine.

Would you be inclined to bargain with such a regime? If your answer—against all evidence—is yes, then you can look forward to a short and unhappy career in Joe Biden’s State Department. For President Biden is on the verge of betraying Congress and the American people by rewarding the Islamic Republic of Iran for its various misdeeds.

According to news reports, Biden is prepared to authorize billions of dollars in payments to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. prisoners, a halt to militia attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, a moratorium on ballistic missile sales to Russia, and a freeze on uranium enrichment at 60 percent (90 percent enriched uranium is considered weapons-grade). Biden will say this perverse arrangement is necessary to free innocents and prevent the outbreak of war. What he won’t be able to do is call it a deal.

Biden can’t call the agreement a deal because he wants to avoid congressional review. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 forbids the president from relieving nuclear-related sanctions on the Islamic Republic without congressional approval. The administration’s end-run around the law is clever. It is also pathetic.

This deal that dare not speak its name will have no force. It will rely entirely on the goodwill of the 84-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a grizzled trickster and ally of Vladimir Putin. The New York Times reports that Khamenei has authorized the deal because it leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place. The second Biden begins to doubt the wisdom of paying further ransom money, Khamenei will start spinning his centrifuges once more. And if paramilitaries controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fire mortars on Americans—well, he could say the bloodshed came from militants over whom he exercises no control.

Notice that the deal-that-is-no-deal says nothing about Iran’s deadliest proxy, Hezbollah, or about Iran’s drone traffic. This omission is consistent with Biden’s nasty habit of selling out America’s allies whether it be the democratic government of Afghanistan, the peoples of Lebanon, Syria, and, of course, Israel, or the Ukrainians resisting Russian occupation. Biden’s bribe—what Richard Goldberg of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies calls Biden’s "pay and pray" strategy of fueling the Iranian terror machine in the hope that it doesn’t go nuclear—is limited in scope, bereft of accountability, brazenly desperate, and lacking in strategic purpose. Its aims are political.

Biden wants to keep the Middle East quiet ahead of Election Day 2024. That is why his support for the Iranian rebellion was merely gestural. Why he allowed these talks in Oman to continue despite Iran’s assistance to Russia. Why his government welcomed the détente between Saudi Arabia and Iran that China brokered in April. And why he has submitted to the humiliation of paying off rogues for promises of good behavior in a few select areas.

This is partly a story of diminished diplomatic expectations. Biden’s old boss, Barack Obama, dreamed of subletting the Greater Middle East to Iran. Now Biden is left paying the bully to leave him alone. It is also another entry in the saga of Joe Biden’s incompetence. In his rare discussions of foreign policy, President Biden has portrayed international relations as a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. I am inclined to agree with him. Then I look at his actions—where he has an awful tendency to give the authoritarians the upper hand.

Appeasing Iran does nothing to further the cause of democracy. Nor does attempting détente with a China that has grown in belligerence since the spy balloon incident earlier this year. Nor does slow-walking weapons deliveries to Ukraine while hemming and hawing over Ukraine’s future in NATO. If Joe Biden wanted to preserve and promote democracy abroad, he would do more than give the occasional speech on the subject. He would mobilize hard power to confront authoritarians and deter them from hostile acts.

Biden has made a career out of misjudgment. This sure-to-fail bargain with Iran is another entry in a depressing catalogue.