If Biden does nothing, every other country considering going nuclear, including Turkey, Egypt and perhaps even Venezuela, may conclude that the US is a paper tiger
Just a quarter of a century ago, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein announced he would stop cooperating with international weapons inspectors. Throughout the 1980s, the International Atomic Energy Agency had given Iraq clean bills regarding its nuclear program.
After Operation Desert Storm, the US-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991, Saddam Hussein’s sons-in-law defected to Jordan with loads of documents proving that Saddam had fooled inspectors, lied to the international community and pursued a covert nuclear program throughout.
It was this decade of IAEA deception that led to the Additional Protocol to tighten loopholes in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, writes distinguished analyst Michael Rubin for the Washington Examiner.
Former President Bill Clinton responded to Saddam’s defiance by launching “Operation Desert Fox,” a four-day bombing campaign to force Iraq to allow inspectors to resume their work.
When a national security adviser asked Joe Biden, then on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, what the political storm might be in such a unilateral action, Biden advised Clinton to “put on his raincoat and walk away.”
The campaign worked and Saddam allowed the inspectors to return.
That Saddam continued to bluff both the world and his generals about his weapons program proved a tragic mistake as it led to the misinformation that colored former President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq five years later, a decision that Biden then he argued.
Today, Biden faces his own test. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has increased by more than an order of magnitude since the president canceled former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “maximum pressure” campaign.
Blaming former President Donald Trump is silly because the president’s job is leadership, not just responsibility and the timing of Iran’s nuclear project sees that responsibility as misplaced.
In fact, Iran now has enough uranium enriched to 60%, far in excess of its civilian reactor needs, to reach the weapons level required for a Hiroshima-style bomb.
The Iranian government, meanwhile, has halted inspections mandated not by Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal but by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Tehran’s promise to abide by the terms of the Additional Protocol.
The Iranian government has also disabled surveillance cameras at its nuclear facilities.
Biden may not remember his support for Desert Storm or his advice not to worry about the political fallout, but what’s at stake is not just Iran but the survival of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
If Biden does nothing, every other country considering going nuclear, including Turkey, Egypt and perhaps even Venezuela, may conclude that the United States is a paper tiger and that there will be no consequences, but only rewards for joining the nuke club.
Biden may be fooling around, paralyzed by his own sense that liberals on Twitter represent mainstream public opinion, but if he doesn’t act, other countries might.
If Israel, for example, strikes Iran’s facilities, but cannot get the job done, given the scale of Iran’s nuclear program and the country’s physical size, then it can create a hornet’s nest that disrupts international shipping and destabilize the entire region.
Military action is not a solution. At best, it will delay Iran’s nuclear program at enormous cost in blood and money, while allowing the regime to justify its nuclear project and rally disgruntled Iranians around the regime’s banner.
But unless there is a shock Iran can’t handle, with “Maximum Pressure” at a minimum and perhaps an embargo to stop Iranian exports, Biden will be known as the president who played while the Middle East burned.