Putin’s war against Ukraine is far from Tehran. But if the Biden administration hopes to deter Russia in Ukraine, and its growing alliance with China and Iran, it needs to move decisively against Iran’s nuclear assets—now.
The war in Europe and coming threat of a nuclear armed Iran is confronting the US with a stark reality: an emerging alliance of nuclear-armed states, including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, whose atomic umbrella will stretch from NATO’s borders in Eastern Europe to the Asian Far East.
The Biden Administration does not yet realize that the ground has shifted under its feet—or it would be making corollary shifts, not more concessions to Iran. Instead, supporting a deal negotiated by Russia—one better than even Iran imagined, or so Russia brags—proves that the current administration is behind the times and dangerously wedded to ideas from a now-antiquated paradigm.
The original JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) was conceived and negotiated against a global alignment which no longer exists. We are in a new era, with new alignments and new divisions. This is why America cannot agree to such a deal. It would empower Russia and China to leverage Iran’s nuclear status against us while guaranteeing to Russia in writing that it can build 40 or more nuclear reactors in Iran. Such a deal is simply incompatible with the world we now inhabit.
Startling and rapid, these shifts mean the cooperative period of East–West relationship has reverted to one of Cold War-style threats and alliances, including dramatic realignment among four and potentially many as five anti-Western states armed with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. This growing nuclear threat simply isn’t tenable for the US. In response, the Biden administration should show the grit and determination necessary to finally launch military strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The US and its allies have dithered on this issue for far too long.
But strikes against Iran won’t just end a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. They will send a strong message of resolve from the US to our adversaries that will restore desperately-lacking American military deterrent power. This is vital for US national security.
Is there any indication that Putin is deterred by NATO or American warnings? To the contrary, Putin seems to be the one doing the deterring. Why else did the White House block the transfer of 28 MiG-29 fighters from Poland to Ukraine, which is pleading for them?
Given the Biden administration’s badly-engineered withdrawal from Afghanistan, its insincere and porous application of sanctions on Russia, failure to arm Ukraine adequately, and serial weakness in the face of Iran ballistic missile attacks on Americans and the capital cities of our Gulf allies, is it surprising that America and NATO’s willingness to go to war over former Soviet satellite states is deeply suspect in Moscow?
That is why the United States should act immediately and decisively to destroy Iran’s nuclear and military industrial complex. This will restore America’s credible military deterrent, prevent adventurism and a wider war in Europe. In the process, it will discourage reckless aggression in Asia, rhetorical or otherwise.
What currently deters Vladimir Putin from calling President Biden’s and NATO’s bluff over “1 inch” of territory? During any two-week NATO debate over invoking Article 5, Putin can take a 100 mile slice of Polish countryside or invade a Baltic state.
Far from being deterred, Iran’s Supreme Leader has already called the White House’s bluff. On March 13, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched a substantial ballistic missile attack targeting Erbil, near America’s new consulate in Kirkuk. This latest direct attack by Iran on American soldiers and civilians follows dozens of attacks by Iran and its proxies, which targeted US military bases plus population centers in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. Tehran has de facto declared war on the United States and our Gulf allies.
Twenty years of talks with Iran regarding its illegal nuclear weapons programs have amounted to two decades of calculated deception—deception almost always shielded diplomatically by Russia and economically by China.
Since President Biden took office, Russia and China have increasingly overcome historic differences, forging deeper scientific, military, trade, financial and imperial leader-to-leader ties. Chinese state media has amplified false Russian bioweapon accusations against the US and spread Russia’s fallacious narrative of liberating Ukraine from Western aggression and phantom Nazis.
Concern about Putin’s state of mind is widespread among White House advisors and European military officials. The frustrated commander-in-Kremlin has put his nukes on alert. He told the West to stay the hell out. He has issued increasingly brazen threats against European and NATO states considering military aid, which are deterring these states from providing the help Ukraine needs. All this must be reversed.
President Biden has apparently grown fearful of providing Putin a “pretext” to involve a NATO state in Putin’s war. So, suddenly Poland was out of line for offering planes to Ukraine—in a swap Secretary of State Blinken suggested on a weekend was underway, until the White House was “shocked” by the very idea on Monday.
If the President wants to avoid wider war in Europe and deter the naked aggression that threatens global systems—those ensuring free and fair trade, borders, open seas, and respect for human dignity—we must act to destroy Iran’s nuclear and military industrial capability, restoring our deterrent credibility and taking away from Russia and China the ability to align with a nuclear Iran against the West.
In the US, as of early April 2022, the national average price for gas remains over $4 and spikes over $5 in places. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were incensed with the White House’s wildly nonchalant reaction to Iranian proxies firing ballistic missiles into their cities over the past few months. Understandably, Gulf leaders were unavailable for a call with President Biden about increased oil output amid the Ukraine crisis.
Acting now to eliminate the Iranian nuclear military-industrial complex would remind the world’s other leading powers that the United States still maintains red lines which cannot be crossed. It would also restore some confidence in the Gulf and go a long way toward reducing the price of gas at the pump.
Josh Block is a foreign policy fellow at the Hudson Institute and worked for the Clinton administration at USAID.