Before leaving for the Middle East, President Biden sat down for an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 News. Anchor Yonit Levi asked the president if he would use force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. “As a last resort, yes,” Biden said.
I’d like to think that Biden is sincere. I hope that he understands the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the Greater Middle East, to Europe, and indeed to the world. A nuclear Iran would launch a cycle of proliferation and escalation in the region. Iran’s 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 to hostage-taking, knowing that the bomb gives it cover. A nuclear Iran means a world more dangerous, more violent, more flammable than the world is even today.
Which is why Biden is the latest American president to suggest that the use of force remains an option. An air and naval campaign to destroy the nuclear sites known to Western intelligence and to degrade the Islamic Republic’s capacity to retaliate is the best means of delaying and potentially foreclosing the possibility of an Iranian bomb. The objective of such an operation wouldn’t be regime change. The goal would be prevention. Israel and the Gulf States would support us. And Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping would pay attention. They would be put on notice: The American president means what he says.
Does he? In the spring of 2021, President Biden was asked about the record numbers of illegal immigrants who began crossing the southern border after he reversed his predecessor’s asylum policies. Biden dismissed the question. The migrant surge was “seasonal,” he said. It happens “every single solitary year.” Not like this, it doesn’t. The season ended long ago. The migration has continued for a year and a half. Last month saw the largest number of illegal crossings on record. Biden’s flippant answer was grossly mistaken, to say the least. He doesn’t seem to care. In fact, if he’s successful in ending Title 42 protocols allowing for the swift repatriation of illegal migrants, he will continue to make the problem worse.
In the summer of 2021, President Biden gave a speech on the inflation that was starting to appear in the economic data. “Our experts believe and the data shows that most of the price increases we’ve seen are—were expected and expected to be temporary,” he said. Like the “seasonal” migration on the southern border, the “temporary” inflation continues. Last month’s number was higher than expectations. Real earnings fell 4 percent. The president’s economic policies have resulted in a decline in Americans’ standard of living. Nothing he says on the issue has changed the public’s dismal view of his job performance.
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 and America was forced into a panicked and dangerous rescue operation that left 13 U.S. servicemen killed and Afghanistan abandoned. Throughout this disaster, Biden spoke and acted as if everything was going according to plan, as if everything was under control. By Labor Day 2021, the public had severed its connection with a president whom it had placed in office simply because it was tired of the incumbent’s excesses. Biden might as well spend the rest of this year in Rehoboth Beach. He operates without public attention and without public support. His words carry no meaning. They don’t land, they don’t register, they don’t signify.
Will Biden use force to stop Iran? Maybe. That’s what he told Channel 12. Yet Biden acknowledged the possibility of a military strike only when Israeli media forced him to. Note the following: 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.” No discussion of how long he will wait for Iran to get “ready to return” to the deal. No mention of what he will do if Iran refuses to comply.
And Iran isn’t complying. Indirect talks between the United States and Iran, mediated by Europe and by, incredibly, Russia, have lasted for over a year. They’ve 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 cameras remain dark. The Iran crisis is here, but President Biden acts as if it hasn’t yet arrived. The zombie negotiations in Vienna—with endless talks despite longstanding impasses over the status of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and whether Biden’s successor will have the power to scuttle the arrangement (which of course he will)—have become an end in themselves. Nor is there reason to expect the administration to cut them off so long as Iran doesn’t make too much trouble. Especially when Biden would like to bring Iranian oil back on the market.
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, it seems to me, is his reluctance to deploy our forces abroad. Think of his Afghanistan withdrawal, and his self-deterrence vis-à-vis Russia in Ukraine. “I will be the first president to visit the Middle East since 9/11 without U.S. troops engaged in a combat mission there,” he said in the final line of his Washington Post op-ed. “It’s my aim to keep it that way.”
That’s the real Biden—the Biden who believes that he’s been right on every foreign policy issue of the last half century, when he almost always has been wrong—the Biden whose credibility is shot. Should Israel and America’s Middle East partners take him seriously? Look at his actions rather than his words. And if he fails to act, others should.