Biden is squandering the leverage on Iran that Trump stockpiled

 Biden is squandering the leverage on Iran that Trump stockpiled

“We’re not going to prejudge.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price deployed this classic Washington euphemism last week to avoid responding to a question over how much culpability Iran and its Shiite militias bear for recent rocket attacks against a U.S. military base in northern Iraq. The strikes killed one contractor and wounded several other service persons, including Americans.

Biden’s approach draws directly from Obama’s playbook: turning a blind eye to regional aggression and offering economic relief to signal support for engagement.

Twice since then, rockets have been fired at positions affiliated with the U.S. presence in Iraq: a military base on Saturday and at the area around the U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad on Monday. These strikes are not new. Since May 2019, Iran-backed militias have been behind at least 83 such strikes on U.S. positions, a damning pattern consistent with almost two decades of Iran-linked attacks against the U.S. in Iraq.

The administration’s refusal to directly call out this time-tested method of Iranian escalation also follows its public unwillingness to blame Hezbollah – Iran’s most deadly proxy group – when condemning the assassination of Lokman Slim, a prominent anti-Hezbollah activist, in an attack in Lebanon this month.

Why is the Biden administration not connecting the dots between the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies – and not doing more to publicly deter this behavior? Is it simply that the new administration is still finding its feet after just one month in office?

Possibly. But there is a better explanation.

President Joe Biden is actively signaling a change in approach from his predecessor. He wants to find a way back into the nuclear deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program that his former boss, Barack Obama, concluded in 2015 only to have Donald Trump abandon in 2018.

The Biden administration’s strategy for getting Iran to play ball clearly involves making upfront concessions to Tehran, including de-linking the nuclear and regional threats it poses. In contrast, Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy was characterized by forthright condemnations and more direct responses to Iran-backed aggression. Team Trump also believed that sanctions relief should occur only in exchange for a wholesale change in behavior by the Islamic Republic that included nullifying its regional threats.

Biden’s approach draws directly from Obama’s playbook: turning a blind eye to regional aggression and offering economic relief to signal support for engagement to get back to the negotiating table. And it’s unfortunate, because the result is sure to be the same as before as well: an overly deferential and defective deal that offers Iran patient pathways to nuclear weapons because its restrictions eventually sunset, while handcuffing Washington from using its most powerful economic punishments and doing nothing to stop the improvement of the clerical regime’s warfighting abilities or that of its proxies.

It’s not just the willingness to overlook Iran’s role in recent attacks in the region that makes this clear. It’s that the Biden administration has done this while going out of its way to tempt Tehran to talk through a policy of unilateral conces

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Redak staff

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