Can Biden’s threat of force against a nuclear Iran be trusted?

Matthew Continetti
Conservative Opinion

Matthew Continetti

Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
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Indirect talks between President Joe Biden and Iran continue as he attempts to revive a nuclear deal from 2015. The Islamic Republic has made significant progress on its nuclear program over the last decade. If they are ultimately successful, it would destabilize the region and possibly force other nations to follow. Straight Arrow News contributor Matt Continetti argues that, considering Iranian aspirations, Biden must keep his word and do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons:

Before his July trip to the Middle East, President Biden sat down for an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 News. He said that he would be willing to use force as a last resort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Should we believe him? I hope that Biden understands the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the world. If Iran gets the bomb, its nuclear missiles would be in range not only of America’s Persian Gulf allies but also of NATO. Iran would intensify its malign activities, from terrorism to proxy war, knowing that its nuclear arsenal gives it cover. 

Which is why Biden is the latest American president to suggest that the use of force remains an option. A military campaign to destroy known nuclear sites and to degrade the Islamic Republic’s capacity to retaliate is the best means of forestalling an Iranian bomb. Our adversaries would be put on notice: The American president means what he says.

And yet there are reasons to doubt President Biden’s sincerity. In the spring of 2021, he was asked about the record numbers of illegal immigrants pouring across the southern border. Biden dismissed the question. The migrant surge was “seasonal,” he said. That “season” ended long ago, yet the migration continues. June 2022 saw the largest number of illegal crossings on record. Biden doesn’t seem to care. 

In the summer of 2021, President Biden gave a speech on rising inflation. He said the following: “Our experts believe and the data shows that most of the price increases we’ve seen are—were expected and expected to be “temporary.” Like the “seasonal” migration on the southern border, that “temporary” inflation continues today. And the president’s economic policies have resulted in a decline in Americans’ standard of living. 

It was only a year ago, remember, that President Biden was asked if a Taliban conquest of Afghanistan was inevitable. “No,” he answered. A month later, the holy warriors rolled into Kabul. Throughout this disaster, Biden behaved as if everything was going according to plan. His words carry no meaning. 

Before his July trip to the Middle East, President Biden sat down for an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 News. He said that he would be willing to use force as a last resort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Should we believe him? I hope that Biden understands the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the world. If Iran gets the bomb, its nuclear missiles would be in range not only of America’s Persian Gulf allies but also of NATO. Iran would intensify its malign activities, from terrorism to proxy war, knowing that its nuclear arsenal gives it cover. 

Which is why Biden is the latest American president to suggest that the use of force remains an option. A military campaign to destroy known nuclear sites and to degrade the Islamic Republic’s capacity to retaliate is the best means of forestalling an Iranian bomb. Our adversaries would be put on notice: The American president means what he says.

And yet there are reasons to doubt President Biden’s sincerity. In the spring of 2021, he was asked about the record numbers of illegal immigrants pouring across the southern border. Biden dismissed the question. The migrant surge was “seasonal,” he said. That “season” ended long ago, yet the migration continues. June 2022 saw the largest number of illegal crossings on record. Biden doesn’t seem to care. 

In the summer of 2021, President Biden gave a speech on rising inflation. He said the following: “Our experts believe and the data shows that most of the price increases we’ve seen are—were expected and expected to be temporary.” Like the “seasonal” migration on the southern border, that “temporary” inflation continues today. And the president’s economic policies have resulted in a decline in Americans’ standard of living. 

It was only a year ago, remember, that President Biden was asked if a Taliban conquest of Afghanistan was inevitable. “No,” he answered. A month later, the holy warriors rolled into Kabul. Throughout this disaster, Biden behaved as if everything was going according to plan. His words carry no meaning. 

Will Biden use force to stop Iran? Maybe. Yet Biden acknowledged the possibility of a military strike only when Israeli media forced him to. In his Washington Post op-ed explaining the reasons for his Middle East trip, Biden wrote that “my administration will continue to increase diplomatic and economic pressure until Iran is ready to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, as I remain prepared to do.”

Biden did not discuss in that article just how long he will wait for Iran to get “ready to return” to the deal. Nor did Biden mention what he will do if Iran refuses to comply.

And Iran is not complying. Indirect talks between the United States and Iran have gone nowhere. Worse than nowhere: Iran’s nuclear “breakout” time is now zero. Last month Iran turned off the cameras that the International Atomic Energy Agency uses to monitor its disclosed nuclear facilities. The Iran crisis is here, but President Biden acts as if it hasn’t yet arrived. 

So much of Biden’s rhetoric feels performative: He recycles the standard lines not to state policy or rally public opinion but simply to move on to the next question. Where he is most sincere is in his reluctance to deploy our forces abroad. Think of his Afghanistan withdrawal, and his self-deterrence vis-à-vis Russia in Ukraine. 

That’s the real Biden—the Biden who mistakenly believes that he’s been right on every foreign policy issue of the last half century—the Biden whose credibility is shot. Should Israel and America’s Middle East partners take him seriously? Look at Biden’s actions rather than his words. And if he fails to act, others should.

 


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