It’s tempting to view the U.S. airstrikes this week in Syria against an Iranian-aligned target with optimism—a signal that President Joe Biden is finally done negotiating with a regime that inspired the near murder of Salman Rushdie and is still trying to murder Donald Trump, John Bolton, and Mike Pompeo.
Who are we kidding? Joe Biden is a Democrat, and there are few legacies more precious to his party than reviving former president Barack Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
That is why Tuesday’s airstrikes are not worth a warm bucket of spit. Consider the statement from Colonel Joe Buccino confirming the U.S. operation. The U.S. "targeted infrastructure facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," he said, adding that the strikes were a "proportionate, deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize the risk of casualties."
That’s the geopolitical equivalent of arresting street dealers and letting the kingpins skate. In the 1990s, this tactic was called "cruise-missile diplomacy": Make a point, but don’t risk tit-for-tat escalation. That’s why no senior Iranian officers were targeted and why the only casualties, according to a group monitoring developments on the ground, were 10 militia fighters, whom Iran treats like cannon fodder.
It looks even worse when one considers the escalations from Iran on nearly all fronts. The Syria strike was a response to a series of drone attacks on the U.S. base in Tanf, a critical facility that monitors Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and is crucial to assisting local fighters in their battle against the remnants of the Islamic State.
In this respect, Biden’s airstrike is a weak man’s attempt to signal resolve in the midst of capitulation. The leaks from Vienna, where U.S. envoy Rob Malley is negotiating through his Russian counterpart with Iran’s diplomats, are not encouraging. Iran International reported last week on notes from the regime’s top negotiator indicating Iran rejected Malley’s request for a commitment to end attacks on U.S. citizens.
We’re under no illusion that Biden, Malley, and company are taking their cues from us, but gentlemen: Read the room, pack your bags, and save your last shred of dignity. The Iranians don’t want a deal. They want us dead.