On the one hand, they are insisting that Biden must somehow guarantee that his successors will abide by his surrender to their requests — something that is impossible in a democracy, especially since Biden, like Obama, has no intention of abiding by the constitution’s demand that a treaty (which is what the nuclear agreement is) be ratified by a vote of two-thirds of the Senate. This is highly perplexing for the president’s posse of appeasers who thought by now they would be done with the Vienna talks and moving on to the next round of futile efforts to bring Iran into the community of nations.
On the other hand, the Iranians are conducting an open campaign of terror aimed at Israel and its Gulf state friends that is intended to intimidate them and the West. Its terror auxiliaries in Lebanon and elsewhere have also been stirring in ways that make it likely that their masters in Tehran want them to cause trouble, and leave both Jerusalem and Washington to ponder whether Tehran actually wants war.
The purpose of these moves is painfully obvious even if it appears to elude the likes of President Joe Biden, who has always suffered from the delusion that he is a foreign-policy expert, and his team. Though Iran is under tremendous economic pressure to gain sanctions relief amid growing unrest from a population that has tired of their theocratic masters’ cruelty and incompetence in managing a modern economy, Iran believes that it is actually Biden who is under more pressure than them.
They know Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan actually believe the Obama-era talking point that the only options facing the United States with respect to Iran are appeasement or war. While the trio has consistently tried to appear tough-minded with respect to Iran, they failed to learn the lesson that Trump taught them — that this is a false choice. Though Iran tried to goad Trump into conflict or convince him to back down on re-imposing sanctions, he didn’t take the bait and stuck to his “maximum pressure” campaign that backed Tehran into a corner from which only the results of the 2020 presidential election appear to have saved them.
But Iran’s provocations, along with the inauguration of a “hardliner” as president — not to mention its efforts to bolster its nuclear program and get closer to a weapon — are all intended to prey upon Biden’s fears. Tehran is clearly convinced that the president does not want to walk away empty-handed from Vienna. Nor will he respond by toughening sanctions and sending a message that further efforts to interfere with freedom of the seas will be met with force. Instead, they think he’ll back down even more and, even if he can’t guarantee that a successor will respect this diplomatic disaster, grant Iran further concessions on sanctions and its nuclear program, just as Obama did when he wanted a deal at any price. Iran’s bellicose behavior, like its murderous new president’s reputation, is a façade for a weak theocracy that is counting on the foolishness of its opponents to once again bail them out.
The trouble is, it’s hard to argue with their judgment. While it is to be hoped that Biden won’t fall into the trap they’ve set for him, it’s difficult to imagine him or his staff being able to accept that Trump was right about Iran and they have been wrong. What’s needed most from Washington is more sanctions, not a restoration of an agreement that was a disaster when it was signed, and is even more of a liability to the West and its allies now.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS-Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter @jonathans_tobin.