It’s the worst possible time to revive the Iran nuclear deal

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi sits during his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Aug. 29, 2022.
(Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi sits during his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Aug. 29, 2022. Raisi warned that any roadmap to restore Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers must see international inspectors end their probe on man-made uranium particles found at undeclared sites in the country. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The Biden administration’s push to reach a new nuclear agreement with Iran is completely out of step with not only our own interests in the Middle East but also regional developments that are bypassing Washington. The White House risks eroding our already tenuous position in the region and undermining our credibility with regional allies. 

Rather than pursuing a deal that was wrong then and even more wrong now, the administration should be deepening our partnerships in the region to contain and deter Iran. 

Only a few days ago, the United States launched strikes against Iran-backed militants in Syria — militants that attacked American forces in the region. Tehran is providing material support to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine — support it will almost certainly expand in the face of the White House’s diplomatic efforts. Iran continues to be a hugely destabilizing factor in Iraq, as evidenced by the latest political crisis in Baghdad. Tehran also actively participated in joint naval exercises with Russia and China earlier this year — an alarming confluence of America’s adversaries at sea. And let’s not forget the recent plot by the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to assassinate officials on American soil.  

Despite all of this evidence to the contrary, the White House seems intent on repeating the mistakes of the past, even in the face of Iranian belligerence. Once again, the administration is looking to bypass congressional approval for a very flawed Iranian nuclear deal. 

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached by the Obama administration — many staffers of whom now work for Biden — required a level of institutional and willful blindness that defies belief. The Iranian regime has only seen an increase in its interest in sowing chaos, fomenting violence and destabilization across the region since it was approved. 

The first agreement sought to impose restrictions on Tehran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon — the development of which would be extremely destabilizing for the region. A nuclear Iran will only serve to free up their efforts to destabilize and threaten allies in the region. In exchange for loose monitoring and verification, the signatories agreed to remove sanctions (sanctions imposed, mind you, for the Iran hostage crisis, its ballistic missile program and human rights violations, among other things) and weapons embargoes designed to limit its ability to engage in havoc in the region.  

To get to this accord, the Obama administration had to ignore Tehran’s support of Syria’s murderous civil war, ignore Damascus’ use of chemical weapons, had to agree to give $1.7 billion in cash back to Tehran that the intelligence community knew would support its terrorist activities around the world and had to sacrifice critical clandestine efforts that were working to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The Obama administration had to ignore highway robbery to get a promise from Tehran that it had no long-term intention in following.  

Meanwhile, in the background, developments in the Middle East are passing our country by. Over the last several years Middle Eastern countries have been establishing formal ties with Israel. Think about how significant that is — the kingdoms and countries of the Middle East are abandoning policies that sought to isolate Israel, and are in the preliminary steps of embracing the country as a stable and reliable partner.  

The Middle Eastern states are recognizing the strategic reality that a stable, democratic and prosperous Israel is a far safer bet and far better partner than a theocratic, authoritarian and aggressive Iran. Strategic interests and the threat Tehran poses — nuclear or otherwise — are making smart bedfellows. This shift also reflects concerns about the credibility of the United States’ commitment to the region and its security. President Barack Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq created conditions for the creation of the Islamic State, and President Joe Biden’s disastrous exodus from Afghanistan only reinforced questions as to whether America could be relied upon in a crisis. The Biden administration is only reinforcing these fears with its misguided policy on Iran 

This was a bad deal made in bad faith that gave Tehran a lot and got the West very little, regardless of how the administration tried to justify its success after the fact. It’s an agreement that should never have been made in the first place and withdrawing from it made sense, even if the way in which it was handled left much to be desired.  

Rather than pursue an agreement that will give Iran what it wants, the United States should be doubling down on embracing the changes in the region’s security and diplomatic architecture. Washington should be encouraging these developments wherever possible, supporting Israel and our Middle Eastern partners in this process politically, economically and with military advice and assistance.  

Washington needs to rethink its grand strategy and recognize that despite the White House’s best hopes and fervent dreams, it cannot abandon the Middle East. As evidenced by President Biden’s hat-in-hand visit to the Saudi kingdom to beg for more oil. Even as the United States pivots to the Indo-Pacific and China, it must play a productive and constructive role in the region’s defense and diplomatic architecture. We can and must do both.  

The region and the United States cannot afford a nuclear Tehran, but it also cannot afford to be left behind as these historic political and diplomatic developments take place — developments which are wholly in the United States’ interests — even if they come about because of America’s seeming lack of attention. If we fail to stay engaged, we risk having to respond to a more serious conflict in the region. 

The best insurance for a safer and stable region won’t be a fatally flawed JCPOA 2. It will be a continued engagement with our Middle East allies looking to build a better future for the region.  

Mike Rogers served as the Republican representative in Congress for the 8th District of Michigan from 2000 until 2015, including as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 2011-2015.  

Tags Barack Obama Criticism of the Iran nuclear deal Iran nuclear deal Joe Biden Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Middle East Policy Politics of the United States
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