The Biden Administration is making the greatest mistake in the Middle East since former President Jimmy Carter convinced himself that he could “do business” with the Islamist regime of the now deceased Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. After a painfully rigged election went forward and delivered the widely expected results: that a hardline zealot (and personal close friend of the current Ayatollah Khamenei), Ebrahim Raisi, became the new president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Winning over 60 percent of the vote, it was a clean sweep (this shouldn’t surprise anyone given how corrupt and broken Iran’s election process is).
The response from the Biden Administration has been sad, to put it mildly.
Shortly before the election results were announced, my colleague at The Asia Times, defense expert, Stephen Bryen, reported that the Biden Administration announced it was withdrawing critical US military personnel and, more importantly, air defense systems, from strategic allies in the Mideast. This, at a time when Iran has coronated its most hard-line leader in years.
Iran was sending the world, specifically the Biden Administration, that they are the ascendant power in the Middle East and everyone else had better get in line or suffer the consequences. Not long after the results of Iran’s election were made public, the Biden Administration’s national security council, Andrew Sullivan, went before cameras to give the Biden Administration’s take on the situation in Iran.
Sullivan, a competent technocrat who is knowledgeable in his chosen field of foreign policy, insisted that the rise of Raisi as leader of Iran proved how essential it was to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. At which point, I found myself nodding in agreement with Mr. Sullivan. Sadly, the conclusion the Biden Administration has reached in terms of preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capabilities seems paradoxical.
Whereas the natural response to this threat would be impose grueling sanctions, as the previous Trump Administration had done, or even sabotaging critical Iranian military systems at opportune moments or assassinating critical Iranian military leaders, the Biden Administration wants to…appease the mad mullahs of Iran.
That’s right, Iran’s rulers are telling the world that they are going on a war-footing and the only country capable of deterring Iran’s insane ambitions, the United States, is not only checking out of the region but looking to hand it off to the very nation–Iran–that is behaving crazily. So, here we have an example of the Biden Administration vowing to do one thing publicly (prevent Iranian acquisition of nuclear arms) while doing the exact opposite.
What are the ramifications for these actions?
First, the Israelis have ousted Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet, they did not replace him with a dovish government. Far from it. The new government of Israel is more hawkish than even that of Netanyahu’s government. Since Israel is most directly threatened by Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, a more hawkish government, coupled with an increasingly anti-Israel government in Washington and a Biden Administration intent on empowering nuclear-arming Iran, means that Israel is more likely to attempt a bolt-from-the-blue attack on Iran to both defend themselves and force the Americans to fulfill their obligations to their Israeli allies.
Second, the Biden Administration has done its level-best to undermine the Abraham Accords, which were a historic peace deal brokered by the Trump Administration between Israel and many of the Sunni Arab states. In fact, while Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the Sunni Arab world, did not officially sign on to the accords, it was widely believed that Riyadh was quietly blessing the deal, which is why so many Sunni Arab states signed on to it.
Had Donald Trump won reelection, it is probable that at some point in 2021 Saudi Arabia would have signed on to the agreement. Since Biden won, however, the accords are in limbo and the power-conscious Sunni Arabs are starting to make other calculations. Notably, Riyadh has been making bizarre overtures to Tehran in a bid to ingratiate themselves for what they are likely assuming will be the region’s new masters (backed up, of course, by fellow authoritarian powers, like China and Russia).
This leaves Israel in the catbird seat. This gives Iran greater ambition, not less, to not only develop a full-throated nuclear capability but to possibly use it. A great power conflict; another world war breaking out in the region is more likely, not less.
The Biden Administration must totally reverse its course on Iran. It must restore the Trump Administration’s policy toward Iran while explicitly moving closer to both Israel and the Sunni Arab states. If Washington does not correct course quickly, it will find itself no longer in charge of events on the ground and will be sucked into a much larger, bloodier, war that will inevitably play out in the region exactly as the First World War played out in Europe…and it will destroy whatever power touches it. These are the stakes…and no one in Washington cares or understands.
God help us.