When Chinese President Xi Jinping isn’t eating President Biden’s lunch, other notable bad guys drop by metaphorically to grab a bite or two. This week, some actually had to wait their turn at the table. Iran and the Taliban each took a turn — and a big bite out of Biden’s foreign policy.
On February 1, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Iran could be only weeks away from having enough nuclear fuel to create an atomic bomb if it continued to violate the 2015 nuclear weapons agreement (the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” or JCPOA) that former president Obama signed with it. Germany, France, the UK, China, and Russia also signed the agreement.
Since then Iran has, of course, continued to violate the agreement and added more violations, limiting UN inspectors’ access to several of Iran’s nuclear sites. Iran is also manufacturing uranium metal for the first time. Uranium metal is useful only to contain the highly enriched uranium that is the core of a nuclear bomb. Iran also continues to demand that the U.S. remove all of the sanctions imposed by former President Trump before it will negotiate with the U.S. or resume its alleged compliance with the agreement. (Iran has never complied, but that’s for another column.)
Last week, at a meeting of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the UN arm responsible for the inspection of Iran’s nuclear sites under the Obama agreement — the UK, Germany, and France were supposed to be offering a U.S.-backed resolution to censure Iran for its increasingly serious violations of the agreement.
But when Iran raised an eyebrow, the three European nations quickly backed off, saying that they wanted to “avoid escalation” and give more time for diplomacy to work. Diplomacy takes many forms, one of which was the proposed IAEA censure.
Like most diplomatic measures, the proposed censure motion would have had precisely no effect on Iran even if it were passed. Neither the IAEA nor the UN have any power to limit or change what Iran does. But the UK, Germany, and France were nevertheless scared enough of offending Iran that they backed down at warp speed.
The timorousness of the three European nations is matched by President Biden’s.
During the last week of February, Biden, for the first time in his presidency, ordered a military action. In response to attacks by Iranian-backed militias on Americans in Iraq, he ordered an air strike on buildings at a location in Syria where Iranian-backed militias were located. That strike, reportedly carried out by two F-15s, killed about two dozen people. And then Biden canceled a second strike because women and children were observed near the second target.
If the president were serious — which, perforce, he is not — U.S. airpower could have inflicted major damage on the militias and perhaps slowed their attacks in Iraq. This minimal airstrike wasn’t intended to stop or even slow the militias’ attacks on U.S. in Iraq, just to “send a message” to Iran. The message was loud and clear. Biden is no more serious about dealing with Iraq, Syria, or Iran than was Obama.
Iran understands Biden’s lack of seriousness. Biden has demonstrated that from the beginning of his election campaign by condemning President Trump’s 2018 revocation of JCPOA, one of Trump’s best decisions. Biden is willing to ignore Iran’s actions, including its violations of that agreement, in order to reverse Trump’s action.
As I’ve written before, Biden has tried to bribe Iran to get its agreement to comply with the JCPOA. For example, he has stopped arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He also reversed Trump’s designation of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as terrorists. Biden says repeatedly that the Yemen war should stop. Diplomacy has had no effect on that seven-year war.
Iran continuously provokes Biden with refusals to even talk about the JCPOA until he ends all U.S. sanctions on Iran. Smaller provocations are frequent. For example, my friends at the Middle East Media Research Institute — MEMRI — published a claim by one of the Iranian-backed militias that they had terror cells in the United States, even in Washington, D.C. Such claims aren’t made without Tehran’s approval.
Iran will never end its pursuit of nuclear weapons because of any diplomatic agreement or maneuver. Neither will the Taliban make peace in Afghanistan.
October 7 will mark the 20th year that the U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan. That was the date that the first Army Special Forces A-Team entered that country in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. We now have about 2,500 troops left in Afghanistan. They are outnumbered by the Coalition troops left there.
On February 29, 2020, the Trump administration made an agreement with the Taliban that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn in 14 months if the Taliban ended its alliances with other terrorist groups — notably al-Qaida — and lessened its attacks on U.S. and Coalition forces as well as those of the Kabul regime. As proof of the Taliban’s contempt for the deal, Taliban attacks against the forces of the Kabul regime have actually increased, and there is no evidence that the Taliban has reduced, far less ended, their alliances with terrorist groups. Nevertheless, Trump withdrew U.S. troops in accordance with the agreement.
Last week, Biden proposed a grandiose peace conference in which the Taliban and the U.S.-supported Kabul government would agree to an interim government. That, presumably, would set aside the weak Trump agreement and may lead to U.S. and Coalition troops staying in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline.
Biden’s proposal is an invitation for the Taliban to eat his lunch. It ignores the support in arms, funding, and probably manpower that the Taliban receives from Russia, China, and Pakistan, which will continue regardless of the result of any “peace” deal reached by the Kabul government and the Taliban.
(The offer was delivered by U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, whose sterling efforts have, over 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, failed comprehensively. I met Khalilzad in Baghdad in 2005. He told me then that Iran wouldn’t be an obstacle to peace in Iraq. Iraq is now an Iranian satrapy.)
The Taliban can, and probably will, accept Biden’s offer and come to the conference. They control most of Afghanistan, including many of its towns and cities, and could well agree to some joint Kabul–Taliban interim government, knowing that when U.S. and Coalition troops finally leave, they can easily push out any interim government and gain control of all of Afghanistan. They can drag out the “peace” talks as long as they desire to.
Biden is more interested in avoiding blame for “losing” Afghanistan (as if we ever “had” it) than he is in making peace between the Kabul regime and the Taliban. His weakness is provocative to all our adversaries. As the Taliban often say, the U.S. has the watches, but they have the time. The Taliban is prepared for Vietnam 2.0, which will be the inevitable result of Biden’s offer.
Every war America has engaged in since 1776 has had its goal of a peace that is beneficial to our national security. In Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, that proved beyond us. Biden is guaranteeing the same result in Afghanistan.