Congress must check Biden’s risky Iran reset
By Senator Bill Hagerty
February 26, 2021
Just days after U.S. forces in Iraq suffered casualties from a rocket attack likely launched by an Iran-backed militia, the Biden administration appeared to turn the other cheek by signaling openness last week to talks with Iran to reenter the flawed nuclear deal that President Donald Trump rightly quit in 2018.
It is becoming clear that with the Biden administration, the American people can expect a strategy of appeasement in the Middle East and a foreign policy mashup of President Barack Obama’s worst hits: reentering the failed Iran nuclear deal, rolling back America’s restored alliances, and sapping momentum from the Abraham Accords.
Congress must proactively serve as a check on President Joe Biden’s headstrong drive to reset relations with Iran’s terror-sponsoring regime.
Toward that end, I am introducing the Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act. This legislation would build on the precedent of a 2017 bipartisan law that empowers Congress to vote to support — or block — Russian sanctions relief. It would apply these identical congressional review procedures to any future Iran sanctions relief, including any to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
The Middle East strategy of the Biden administration takes its lead from former President Obama, who was blinded by the false hope of transforming Iran into a moderate partner. As a consequence, the Obama administration alienated our regional allies by pursuing the fatally-flawed nuclear deal.
Unsurprisingly, Iran used the nuclear deal’s massive financial windfall to fund proxy wars, terrorism, missiles, cyber attacks, and the barbarous Assad regime. Worse, the Obama administration responded slowly as ISIS conquered vast territory, Syria fell into chaos, and Russia reentered the Middle East for the first time since 1973.
The Trump administration spent the last four years repairing this damage. It took deliberate — and, at times, bold — steps to restore relations with Israel, Egypt, and the Gulf States.
Former President Donald Trump freed U.S. military commanders from unsound Obama-era constraints and enabled our troops to militarily defeat the ISIS caliphate. He held accountable dictator Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons and imposed sanctions to penalize Russia and Iran for supporting the Syrian regime. The Trump administration reestablished strategic deterrence against Iranian aggression, including the elimination of General Qassem Soleimani. Buoyed by the strength it demonstrated in the region, the Trump administration also broke new ground in promoting Middle East peace through Abraham Accords, under which Israel so far has normalized relations with four additional Arab nations.
A sensible approach for President Biden would be to build on these American achievements and pursue a regional strategy based on three common-sense principles.
The first principle is to protect the U.S.-led security order. We must strengthen our traditional allies, take their concerns seriously, and avoid the development of a vacuum that opens the door for adversaries to take control of this region.
The second principle is to deter and contain our adversaries, starting with Iran and its “axis of resistance.” We cannot allow Tehran to threaten the regional order or energy flows on which our European and Asian allies rely.
The third principle is to resolve regional conflicts on our own terms. The model of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the Arab world serves as a powerful reminder that diplomacy is not an end itself, but a means to an end — and one that must be backed by political, economic, and military power to be effective.
Unfortunately, under the Biden administration, U.S. policy in the Middle East appears headed in the opposite direction. Democrat and Republican lawmakers must now to use our powers as a coequal branch of government to address the risks of Biden’s apparent Iran reset policy.
Over the long term, the U.S. needs to unite behind a strategy in the Middle East for strengthening our allies, pressuring our enemies, and safeguarding the American people — a strategy that, once again, can endure through successive presidential administrations, regardless of party.
If President Biden isn’t confident that he can secure a strong bipartisan congressional vote to give tens of billions in sanctions relief to Iran’s terror-sponsoring regime, then he should abandon this effort to rejoin the flawed nuclear deal and return to a regional strategy based on common-sense American principles.