Mr. Biden bluntly blusters, “the last [expletive] thing we need in that part of the world is a buildup of nuclear capability.” Yet, Mr. Biden’s commitment to reenter the Obama-era Iran deal, which Iran itself never signed, leads exactly there. Regardless, it would again pin congressional Democrats between voter loathing of Tehran’s mullahcracy and a concession-starved liberal establishment.
Granted, the Iran deal was designed to avoid Capitol Hill. A 2014 New York Times story reported, “President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.” He didn’t succeed, though Congress ended up failing in its abortive attempt to stop the pact. No matter: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is likely right that Mr. Biden could end Trump-era sanctions with “three executive orders.” But that gives congressional Democrats no say in a decision for which they may take the heat.
Heat there will be. In 2015, despite the Obama White House’s admitting it concocted “an echo chamber” of freshly-minted experts “saying things that validated what we had given them to say,” a growing American majority opposed the deal. Yet, despite overwhelming oppositional media coverage of President Trump’s get-tough Iran approach, an American plurality supported perhaps the most aggressive anti-Iran action of his presidency: the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
It follows that voters are likely to recoil from Mr. Biden’s commitment to rejoin the deal, even if it is “subject to Iran returning to full compliance to the deal” and “a starting point for follow-on negotiations.”
Those negotiations may prove nasty, especially if Mr. Biden forfeits four years of Trump leverage by meekly reentering the old deal. Mr. Biden says he seeks “agreements to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints [and] address the missile program.” But an Iranian regime that plowed the deal’s cash windfall into terror and bloodshed across the Middle East, including attacks against American personnel, wants “the old deal or no deal.” Mr. Zarif argues that America “has commitments and that they are not in a position to set conditions in order to implement those commitments.” Then, on Dec. 1 the Iranian parliament approved a bill to suspend U.N. inspections and boost uranium enrichment to 20% if its Iran deal collaborators do not provide sanctions relief within a month, even though the Guardian Council amended the period to two months to give Mr. Biden and Iran’s EU puppets breathing room.
Now, said Mr. Zarif, “[t]he Europeans and USA can come back into compliance” with the deal and not only will the bill not be implemented, but “the actions we have taken … will be rescinded. We will go back to full compliance.”
Still, Mr. Rouhani plainly expects Mr. Biden will cave, projecting Tehran will produce and sell 2.3 million barrels per day as of the next Iranian year — i.e. by March 21, 2021 — up from as low as 100,000 barrels per day in May, nearly equal to the 2.5 million barrels per day Iran peddled before Mr. Trump’s sanctions bit.
Moreover, the Arabs unsurprisingly want a say in negotiations. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan contends, “not involving the regional countries results in a build-up of mistrust and neglect of the issues of real concern and of real effect on regional security.” Recognizing the potential discord, Mr. Biden’s team wants to assemble not only the original deal countries but also others, like the Saudis and Emiratis.
The stakes are high. Then-Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country’s obtaining nuclear weapons was “definitely an option” if Iran continued developing them, as “the Iranians have only responded to pressure.”
Previously, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” calling Iranian leaders “very much like Hitler.” Thus Mr. Biden facilitating Iran’s nuclear rise, as Saudis and others assessed Mr. Obama’s deal did, would trigger a nuclear arms race, which — quoting Mr. Biden — is “the last [expletive] thing we need in that part of the world.”
Worse, we now know Iran’s failure to disclose its nuclear program’s military dimensions, a key concession the Obama team made in order to get its deal, was a veil for its extraordinary activities. A secret 2002 Iranian document that recently emerged outlines nuclear warhead proposals, approved by Iranian nuclear chief Moshen Fakhrizadeh, that describe a “senior Iranian official requesting the parameters of a warhead fitted on a missile,” with the scribble, “In the name of God. Right now in a treatment process. Please archive the original script of the document. Fakhrizadeh.”
But Iran’s program was peaceful after 2002, right? No. We now know that in 2008 Fakhrizadeh had a clandestinely recorded discussion about Iranian leaders wanting him to “build 5 warheads,” and carping about the lack of adequate resources to do so. But after that? No. In 2019, according to a German intelligence agency, Iran “made efforts to procure goods and know-how for the further development of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems,” including “atomic, biological, and chemical weapons.” In March, the International Atomic Energy Agency rebuked Iran for stonewalling on nuclear-weapons work. No wonder that on Nov. 27, 2020, Fakhrizadeh met an untimely but well-deserved end.
All this information won’t stop Mr. Biden from re-signing Washington’s favorite deal with the devil. But congressional Democrats, like Abigail Spanberger, Virginia Democrat, who worry about getting “[expletive] torn apart again in 2022” may want to warn the would-be Chamberlain about the potential political blowback. Until then: Leader McCarthy, yet another runway to your majority is clear.
• Christopher C. Hull, a senior fellow at Americans for Intelligence Reform, adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics and senior analyst for Ravenna Associates, is president of Issue Management Inc.