For the first two years of Joe Biden’s administration, his Iran strategy centered on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. A deal that enriches a murderous regime is not an agreement at all, but rather a strategic folly. It is high time for an alternative strategy that takes advantage of the regime’s domestic vulnerabilities to advance U.S. interests and to help quench the thirst of freedom for the Iranian people.
The Islamic Republic has cast a murderous shadow across the Middle East, and beyond, for decades. Even more recently, thousands of rockets with Iranian origins have rained down on Israeli civilians, with over 100,000 more waiting in Hezbollah’s arsenal. Fanning the flames of civil wars in Syria and Yemen, Iran has established a ring of fire around U.S. partners in the Middle East. Today, the same Iranian weapons used in the Middle East directly threaten European security.
Americans are not safe in the Middle East or at home. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, is directly responsible for killing more than 600 American military personnel in Iraq. Iranian proxies have launched at least 79 attacks on U.S. forces in the region in the past two years alone. The IRGC has plotted to assassinate U.S. generals, politicians and critics on American soil. Once Iran has a nuclear shield to hide behind, it will only grow more brazen and aggressive in attacking U.S. partners, interests, forces and citizens in the Middle East and beyond. By then it will be too late to push back.
The administration’s negotiations and lax enforcement of sanctions have predictably failed to deliver anything but a proposal shorter and weaker than the 2015 agreement. Ironically, this is a proposal still rejected by Iran. It is time for a sensible strategy.
That strategy should recognize the same basic fact that the millions of Iranian people protesting in the streets have now come to accept. There can be no accommodation, no agreement and no peace so long as this regime remains in power. There is no reform to the Islamic Republic’s draconian laws that will be acceptable to Iranians who have lived oppressed for more than four decades. And there is no deal or financial incentive that will make this regime a peaceful international actor. A strategy to stop Iran’s nuclear program and regional aggression must seek to give the Iranian people what they have been demanding and dying for: an end to this tyrannical regime and a new, free republic.
The Biden administration should begin by declaring the JCPOA dead and refraining from further negotiations. Diaspora dissidents have been clear about the importance of this point. As Mariam Memarsadeghi, an Iranian-American civil society activist, recently observed, “By keeping open the possibility of JCPOA negotiations Biden and other leaders are aiding [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei’s killing spree. Sanctions are not enough. [The regime] must know it can never again resume ‘diplomacy,’ that the world stands with Iranians to overthrow this evil.” The protests, while slowing down, remain alive. Declaring the JCPOA dead will reenergize the Iranian people. It must be made clear to Iran’s leaders that they have passed the point of rehabilitation.
After two years of selective enforcement of U.S. sanctions, this administration should resume enforcing them fully, including requiring foreign entities to comply with secondary sanctions. In coordination with the United Kingdom and France, the United States should work to trigger snapback sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.
Meanwhile, to deter Iran from lashing out at U.S. forces and partners, the United States must maintain a credible and visible military presence in the region while providing its Israeli and Arab partners with the weapons that they need to defend themselves. Washington must build upon the inception of the 2020 Abraham Accords. Part of this includes warming Israeli-Saudi relations to bolster regional security cooperation in order to defend against Iranian threats.
The Iranian people have made clear they yearn to be free from the brutal regime. Joe Biden’s upcoming State of the Union address is an opportunity to directly address the persecuted Iranian people. For decades, they have looked up to the leader of the free world to acknowledge their aspiration for a free life to little avail. The authoritarian regime in Tehran must feel the full weight of coordinated pressure by the United States and its allies.
The beginning of a new, sensible Iran strategy should mark the end of the Iranian regime.
Michael Makovsky is president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA). Fallon is a Republican congressman representing the 4th District in Texas; he is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Originally published in Roll Call.