—New York Times, August 10, 2022
—New York Times, August 12, 2022
—New York Times, August 16, 2022
This is where you’d put a confused face emoji.
Why? Because one of the above headlines is unlike the others. The first two stories reveal the nature of the Iranian regime—a gang of criminal theocrats that since 1979 has spread chaos and murder throughout the world. The third headline reveals the gullibility of Western politicians and diplomats who, despite never-ending reminders of the Islamic Republic’s aims and capacities, persist in trying to appease it.
Negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal have been taking place in Vienna since April 2021. They have gone nowhere. Yet the Biden administration insists on playing a starring role in this diplomatic farce. Nothing that happens in the outside world penetrates the bubble where the diplomats reside.
• Iran refused to speak to the United States directly. We obliged. The talks are indirect—a sign of American weakness.
• Ali Khamenei ensured that his potential successor, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric sanctioned by the United States, was "elected" president last summer. Not only did we continue negotiations. We are also now debating whether to provide Raisi an entry visa so he can spout regime propaganda at the U.N. General Assembly next month.
• America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, one year old this week, seriously undermined our credibility and our security. It weakened our influence in the Greater Middle East. Yet Biden didn’t change his foreign policy. He doubled down on his Iran gambit.
• Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February was a hinge of history—a moment when, we have been told, "everything" changed. Everything but the Iran negotiations. Russia, despite its outlaw status on the international stage, continues to serve as Iran’s intermediary. Maybe we should take the hint?
All this happened in the months before the Bolton assassination plot and the attack on Rushdie. And those violations of U.S. sovereignty and rule of law are related to Iranian malfeasance. The Justice Department charged a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for attempting to hire a hit man who would target the former U.S. national security adviser. Rushdie’s assailant may have been in contact with the IRGC, as well, and was unquestionably inspired by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s first Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Khomenei, who called for the British-American novelist’s death in 1989.
And what, you ask, does Iran continue to demand of the United States as a condition for reentry into the nuclear deal? In a piece for CNBC headlined, "A renewed Iran nuclear deal appears closer than ever. Here are the final sticking points," Natasha Turak writes, "Iran wants the Biden administration to remove its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its [i.e., America’s] designated terrorist list, which so far Washington seems unwilling to do."
Biden would be committing political seppuku if he removes the IRGC from the terror list. Even he can see the danger there. He’d be handing the beleaguered Republicans an issue in the final months before the midterms. It has the potential to taint media coverage of his supposed diplomatic triumph.
The IRGC "sticking point" is politically troubling. Another sticking point is impossible. Iran wants the United States to guarantee that future presidents will abide by the deal. However, the only constitutional way to do this would be to submit the nuclear agreement to the Senate for treaty confirmation. Of course, Biden can’t do that, because the treaty would fail. Leaving Biden at an impasse.
One he refuses to acknowledge. Perhaps the Biden team is now so full of themselves after a string of legislative victories at home that they are ready to make additional concessions to get what they mistakenly believe will be a victory abroad. The press will love this narrative, of Biden going from strength to strength and win to win, no matter the costs to U.S. security and stability in the Persian Gulf and Shiite Crescent.
Another scenario is that, while neither Iran nor America agrees to this latest proposal, the talks continue intermittently because they serve each party’s goals. Iran is using this time to build its nuclear infrastructure. America doesn’t want to face the hard choices that follow from a recognition that diplomacy has failed.
That is why all peace processes or arms control negotiations continue despite the evidence that they achieve nothing. The process itself becomes an end for the West. Meanwhile, the process serves as cover for the West’s enemies.
"We have a miserable, bipartisan track record of not responding to Iranian aggression and terrorism," Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies observed the other day. Biden has an opportunity to correct the record by demonstrating American strength in response to Iranian outrages. It’s an opportunity he won’t take.