Pressure is mounting on Biden to take decisive action against Iran following the deaths of three American service members in Jordan. Iran is accused of the drone attack, but they deny any involvement. There have been around 165 attacks on American forces or interests since mid-October, most of them sponsored by Iran, and the U.S. has only responded cautiously.
One could argue that the ongoing attacks are consequences of American policies of failure to restore deterrence and a weak policy towards Iran. The Biden administration is accused of limited reactions and a reluctance to retaliate forcefully against Iran. Is it time to acknowledge the reality of the criminal Iranian regime and the importance of taking action? Some politicians in congress suggest a multifaceted approach, encompassing economic sanctions, diplomatic efforts, and a targeted military campaign against Iranian proxy forces responsible for recent attacks in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
Republicans argue that the current crisis in the Middle East is a result of Biden’s appeasement policy towards Iran and poor relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel. They mean that the Abraham Accords during the Trump presidency was trying to unify Arab countries against Iran, but Biden failed to build on the accords. Biden’s policy in the Middle East has made no or little sense. His endless criticism of Israel and open dislike of Netanyahu has deteriorated relations with the most important Middle Eastern ally. His critique of Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi shows character, but it has also ruined the U.S.-Saudi relationship, led to closer Saudi-Russian ties, and transformed the global energy sector with negative implications for the U.S.
Biden has for some reason also showed Iran respect and a willingness to work closer together and continue the dialogue about the Iranian nuclear program. Overall, Biden’s Middle East policy has been a mess from day one and it has led to the current crisis.
The question is what Biden will do next. He is under pressure to act forcefully, but the problem is that it is difficult to undo the policy from the last few years. Iran’s power has grown across the Middle East. They are stronger in Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and of course in Iran itself. Biden would have to completely revamp his Middle Eastern policy. After all, the U.S. has rewarded Iran around $100 billion in a few years including revenues from the non-enforcement of U.S. oil sanctions, a $6 billion ransom payment in $10 billion sanctions waiver renewed as late as in November.
This policy is counterintuitive given that Iran is actually a fierce enemy attacking the U.S. across the Middle East. Biden’s ideological commitment to appeasing Iran has incentivized ongoing Iranian attacks. His appeasement policy has provided the financial incentive for violence and his fear of escalation has led to more Iranian-sponsored attacks, from the Hamas attack on October 7th to Hezbollah attacks on northern Israel to Houthi strikes in the Red Sea to Iran’s accelerating production of high-enriched uranium.
Biden has been in a fantasy land dreaming of a nuclear agreement with the Iranian regime, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Biden can strike forcefully in Iran, but it is already too late. Instead, Biden needs to revamp his whole Middle Eastern policy, start working with Israel and Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab nations. He also needs to stop all appeasement and financial cooperations with Iran. To undo the mess he has created will not be easy, and it is unclear if Biden has the willingness to admit his mistakes and change his policy.
The most likely Biden response will be some kind of strike on some or several Iranian proxy forces. It is unlikely Biden would go into Iran proper. This is likely a good idea, but an even better idea would be a revamping of the overall Middle Eastern policy.