The Trump administration’s decision to kill Qassem Soleimani, the commander and facilitator of Iran’s terrorist foreign legion, marked the most consequential US effort to push back against Tehran’s malign activities since the Stuxnet virus. Soleimani’s charisma and relationships allowed him to enforce discipline among the leaders of the web of Iranian-backed militias and terrorist groups; the loss of his leadership materially set back Iran’s project to export its influence and dominate the region.
But rather than confronting Iran about its malign activities, the Biden administration is taking a page from President Obama’s playbook, and largely turning a blind eye to Tehran’s escalating regional mischief in order to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.
On the eve of President Obama’s nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — Iran was facing an economic precipice due to biting UN sanctions, and internal dissent. Today, as the P5+1 negotiates in Vienna to restore a deal that won’t prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Tehran is again facing another crisis due economic problems and further internal unrest. But, just like his predecessor, President Biden seems determined to throw Iran’s revolutionary regime a lifeline in their hour of need.
On both the nuclear and regional fronts, it is imperative for Washington to abandon its appeasement approach and pursue a comprehensive “maximum pressure” framework.
When it comes to the nuclear talks, Iran has acted as if the cards are stacked fully in its favor, hewing to maximalist demands and refusing to negotiate on any issues beyond the scope of the original deal. Effectively, Iran has called the Biden team’s bluff, as it believes that the US is desperate for a breakthrough, and would rather accept a bad deal than no deal.
The US negotiators need to take a page from Tehran’s playbook and come back with their own set of maximalist demands. Iran’s nuclear know-how has clearly progressed to dangerous new heights, and can’t be put back in the bottle. All successful negotiations require some form of compromise, but to achieve the optimal outcome, the US should pose a stark binary choice to Tehran from a strong starting point: Either verifiably cease all enrichment activities and dismantle significant portions of your nuclear infrastructure, or the US will ratchet up the economic pressure to an unprecedented degree. Resistance to US pressure is built into the Iranian regime’s DNA, but it has never truly faced an intolerable economic situation with no lifeboat on the horizon.
In tandem with ratcheting up pressure on the nuclear front, the US must pursue a coherent strategy to contain Iran’s malign regional meddling.
Against the backdrop of US disengagement from the region, Iran’s hard-line leadership has been emboldened and retaken the offensive this past year. Both Presidents Trump and Biden failed to follow up on the decisive drone strike against Soleimani with clear actions to further degrade Tehran and its proxies’ machinations to dominate and destabilize the region.
Consequently, Iran and its partners have stepped up drone and missile attacks targeting US interests, personnel, and allies in the region — from Iraq and Syria to Yemen — including numerous provocations in the lead-up to the second anniversary of the Soleimani assassination. Washington has consistently failed to meaningfully push back against these provocations, beyond two airstrikes ordered by President Biden.
The US must regain the edge that the Soleimani strike granted it. US intelligence agencies recognized that Soleimani’s death “degraded Iran’s relations with its array of partners and proxies in the region because he was the primary interlocutor with many regional groups.” Numerous reports have circulated that Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Qaani, lacks the skill to manage Iran’s increasingly aggressive and defiant militia off-shoots.
Buoyed by Washington’s desire to extricate itself from the region and secure a nuclear deal at any cost, Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are riding high. If the US is to prevent Iran from going nuclear, and from realizing Soleimani’s lifelong ambitions of spreading Iran’s revolutionary ideology and evicting the US from the region, it must recommit to increasing the pressure on Tehran. The US must make clear that the Iranian regime will pay a price for its regional destabilization.
Source » algemeiner