Ira Straus

Will Biden Prop Up Iran in its New Crisis?

Will President Biden help the Iranian regime consolidate itself, at this time when it is facing a crisis of leadership that could easily destabilize it? Or will he get on the right side this time and do America’s bit to push the regime from tottering to toppling?

Thus far, the Obama and Biden administrations have given the Iranian regime a pass every time its people have been out on a mass scale trying to get rid of it. Will Biden do so again? Or will he break free of the bad record on this?

Obama and Biden have unfortunately propped up the regime more directly, with their economic concessions. Biden’s sanctions-lifting policy has actively replenished Iran’s financial reserves for sponsoring terrorism. This has been a direct cause of the current war – a war that has already cost the U.S. tens of billions of dollars and, through its Houthi extension, cost the world economy far more than that.

Will Biden change his tune now, and take the opportunity to hit the Iranian regime economically at this moment, when its political stability is at risk?

Will Biden finally break free of his record of military appeasement of Iran? He refused to countenance effective strikes against Iran by Israel, after Iran massively attacked Israel. He prevented Israel from going seriously after Iran’s proxy Hezbollah. He has been proud of restraining himself from serious military blows against the Houthi aggressors.

He has made it a mantra for his Administration to run interference for Iran to spare it from getting serious blame when it escalates, and make sure there is no “escalation” from our side in response. He has made sure that all escalation comes only from Iran’s side. He has abandoned in this way most of our own deterrent power against Iran.

It has reconfirmed the dangerous lesson our enemies drew from our withdrawal from Afghanistan. We are at a point where we will need a stronger policy just to get our deterrence back.

He has also kept pre-emptive options off the table for dealing with Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. He has been so determined to prevent pre-emption that he prefers to proceed with an alliance with the Saudis, including de facto assistance to their nuclear program, to balance the impending nuclear Iran, nightmare though that will be.

Some people believe it’s psychologically important to Biden to hope to be Obama II and save the Iran deal, even though in his rational mind he and his associates have acknowledged that it is dead. Others believe Biden needs to feel like he’s the Anti-Trump.

But these are childish purposes.

A mature democratic leader does not blindly reverse the previous president. A president who does this makes his predecessor look like the grown-up in the room.

Does Biden really want people to be questioning his maturity, along with their doubts about his acuity at his age?

Biden now has another chance on Iran.

Why do some people refuse to take their second chances? Why did Biden refuse his previous second chances on Iran, when the Iranian nation was out in the street for “Woman, Life, Freedom”; and again when the Houthis struck international shipping; and again when Iran struck Israel?

Psychologist teach us that it’s that they become personally invested in their past policy behavior, no matter how badly they know that it has failed. Modern decision theory adds that it’s a problem of personal path dependency.

More than two thousand years ago, Confucius intuited the entire danger. It was after all one of the most basic vices of the human species: the lazy adherence to habit.

“If you make a mistake and don’t fix it,” said Confucius, “you have made another mistake.”

Now is Biden’s golden opportunity to fix his mistake.

His re-election may hinge on it.

More importantly, our survival may hinge on it.

About the Author
Chair, Center for War/Peace Studies; Senior Adviser, Atlantic Council of the U.S.; formerly a Fulbright professor of international relations; studied at Princeton, UVA, Oxford. Institutions named above for identification purposes only; views expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the author.
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