The United States and Iran have been lobbing threats, fighting proxy wars, and imposing sanctions for decades. USA Today looks at over 60 years of this back-and-forth. USA TODAY
There is no military solution to the US impasse with Iran. Taking that path will come at the expense of addressing real threats to ordinary Americans.
President Joe Biden has inherited many debacles at home and abroad, including a global war that spans continents and has seen hundreds of thousands killed and trillions of taxpayer dollars spent. This endless war was almost catastrophically expanded by former President Donald Trump and his aggressive policies toward Iran. As the Biden years begin, the administration must fundamentally end America’s reliance on military force, starting with coming to a lasting peace with Iran.
How the United States should approach Iran is a proxy for the broader divide in Washington over endless wars abroad. Biden has called for a “foreign policy for the middle class” that will end “forever wars” and focus on the immediate crises of the pandemic, restoring civilian democracy, racial and economic inequality, and climate change. However, Biden’s vision will be out of reach so long as America remains mired in wars that take up precious resources and attention.
Trump dealt with Iran harshly
The U.S.-Iran relationship during the Trump years was characterized by U.S. assassinations, Iranian missile attacks and near total war breaking out on multiple occasions. The U.S. intelligence community also holds that Iran engaged in an election interference campaign to undermine Trump’s reelection chances. Now, as Biden continues Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions, tensions are again rising, with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard recently showing off a “missile city.”
Biden has the chance to chart a new course by rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal, as he promised on the campaign trail, and pursuing broader diplomacy. But if he bends to status-quo thinking on foreign policy, his Iran policy could quickly escalate into another Middle East quagmire and an expansion of the decades-long endless war. If Biden and the Democrats more generally seek to avoid such a conflict and fulfill their commitment to rebuilding American strength at home, they must be bold and creative in reforming American foreign policy.
The debate over Iran perfectly encapsulates how many Democrats disregard sensible foreign policies merely to mollify Republican criticisms that they are “soft” on U.S. adversaries. Even as Biden has pledged to return to the Obama-era nuclear accord, some Democrats are breaking ranks and joining Republican-led efforts in Congress to disrupt diplomacy with Iran — even though the official position of the Democratic Party is to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. Biden himself has yet to firmly break from Trump’s policies on Iran and risks fumbling the opportunity altogether amid pressure from congressional hawks.
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Tensions with Iran have spiraled since the Trump administration reneged on the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed severe economic sanctions that the United Nations has condemned as “in defiance of basic humanity.” Meanwhile, Iran has expanded its nuclear program and increased proxy attacks in Iraq and elsewhere.
The nuclear deal that many on Biden’s national security team helped negotiate is a ready-made solution to the crisis with Iran. If Biden misses this opportunity to revive the deal or Congress ties his hands, the diplomatic door with Iran will close and the prospect of full-blown war will grow exponentially. Such a conflict will dwarf the Iraq War in its consequences for the world and keep the United States entangled in the Middle East for years to come.
Biden should think big on Iran
Iran has long been a useful political punching bag for both political parties. Its government’s often deplorable actions make it easily vilified. Wealthy donors and powerful special interest groups reward politicians who toe a hawkish line on the country.
The American public, however, is disenchanted with endless wars across the political spectrum. Most Americans want to avoid new wars, end existing ones and take U.S. foreign policy in a more peaceful direction. A recent poll by YouGov and The Economist also found that nearly two-thirds of Americans support “direct negotiations” with Iran over its nuclear program, including amassive 84% of Biden voters.
War with Iran will kill any hope of ending America’s militarized approach to foreign policy and investing more resources at home. Decades of endless war have seen the Pentagon funded at staggering levels while funds to deal with the biggest threats to the security and livelihoods of Americans, from the pandemic to climate change to poverty, are grievously insufficient. There is no military solution to America’s impasse with Iran, and pursuing one will come at the expense of addressing real threats to ordinary Americans.
Biden and congressional Democrats must pursue serious diplomacy with Iran and use the 2015 nuclear deal as a model to resolve other U.S-Iran disputes.
President Biden’s aim to foster national unity is commendable and necessary. However, the pursuit of unity cannot be centered on giving hawks what they want on Iran or other matters of war and peace. If Biden gives into hawks from both parties who want to escalate with Iran, his domestic agenda will be derailed and grave implications will be felt for the rest of his presidency, and beyond.
Sina Toossi (@SinaToossi) is a senior research analyst at the National Iranian American Council. Yasmine Taeb (@YasmineTaeb) is a human rights lawyer, progressive strategist and Democratic National Committeewoman (2016-20).
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