Biden follows in footsteps of his predecessors, hitting a wall they built

Another Brick in the Wall

September 21, 2021 - 21:26

TEHRAN – The Biden administration vowed to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers by removing the illegal sanctions imposed by the previous administration but it ended up imposing and maintaining the same sanctions it had decried. 

When former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Democrats, including those now in the Biden administration, rushed to condemn Trump’s ill-advised decision to withdraw from a deal that kept Iran’s nuclear program under tight control. 

They portrayed the decision as an attempt driven by a strong distaste on the part of Trump for everything that constituted what came to be known as Barack Obama’s presidential legacy in which the JCPOA stood out as the most important breakthrough. 

Over the course of his presidency, Trump continued to pile up sanctions on Iran in complete disregard for Democratic objections. And when the 2020 U.S. election season rolled around, Democrats, including Biden himself, saw an opportunity to undermine Trump by calling into question his Iran policy. At some point, Biden even pledged to reverse Trump’s Iran policy. 

“I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern,” then-presidential candidate Biden wrote in a September 13, 2020 op-ed for CNN.

The promises Biden made during his election campaign frightened some Iran hawks in Washington who feared that Biden would deliver on his promises. In an effort to block any U.S. return to the JCPOA, these hawks even advised the Trump administration in its waning days to build a wall of sanctions.

The main purpose of this wall was to perpetuate sanctions on Iran and prevent a successor administration from lifting the sanctions. To this end, Trump’s administration changed the logic of sanctions and, in some cases, reimposed previously imposed sanctions under non-nuclear-related authorities, including the U.S.’s counterterrorism sanctions authority.

All this went up in smoke as the Biden administration had no intention of substantially removing the Trump-era sanctions right from the start. Biden did quite the opposite. He even imposed new sanctions on Iran and keeps threatening Iran with stricter implementation of oil sanctions.

Biden followed in the footsteps of Trump. And this was noticed by leading American commentators. Farid Zakaria, a Washington Post columnist, has recently expressed surprise at Biden normalizing Trump’s foreign policy in many areas, including the JCPOA.

“After almost eight months of watching policies, rhetoric and crises, many foreign observers have been surprised — even shocked — to discover that, in area after area, Biden’s foreign policy is a faithful continuation of Donald Trump’s and a repudiation of Barack Obama’s,” Zakaria wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post.

Zakaria were understandably surprised at the continuation of Trump’s policies by Biden. “Another striking example of Biden’s surprisingly Trumpian foreign policy is the Iran deal, one of the landmark accomplishments of the Obama administration. Throughout his election campaign, Biden argued that Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement had been a cardinal error and that, as president, he would rejoin it as long as Iran would also move into compliance. His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, described Trump’s reimposing of secondary sanctions against Tehran despite opposition from U.S. allies as ‘predatory unilateralism,’” he noted, adding, “But since he took office, Biden has failed to return to the deal and has even extended some sanctions. Having long argued against trying to renegotiate the deal, Biden officials now want to ‘lengthen and strengthen’ it. So far, this Trump-Biden strategy has not worked.”

Zakaria’s being caught by surprise with Biden’s Trumpian policy emanates from his belief that Biden is different from Trump. But this is not the case. For Iran, there is no difference between Biden and Trump. Both are a chip off the old American block. When Biden assumed office in January, Iran was among the first to warn that Biden would replicate Trump’s policy.

Despite having followed in the footsteps of Trump, Biden is expecting different results in terms of dealing with Iran. For example, Biden has kept Trump’s sanctions in place. But at the same time calls on Iran to resume compliance with JCPOA while Iran’s remedial measures in suspending some nuclear commitments were essentially in response to U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018. Biden is empty-handed. The sanctions option is exhausted. He used everything in his toolbox to coerce Iran into making concessions with no success.

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