President Joe Biden has often said that he would bring a “return to normalcy” to U.S. foreign policy but cleverly avoided defining the concept. After one year, we now know what it means. For the United States, it is a return to the days when America wasn’t first but was rather desperate for Europe’s approval. The result is that Iran and China are benefiting.
Iran is “weeks away” from enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon, Russia is holding Europe captive, China heightens its threats above Taiwan’s skies, and North Korea launched missile tests before hosting the UN Conference on Disarmament.
Many of these threats have been the inheritance of presidents past, but Biden faced a much weakened and checked Iranian regime. After all, President Donald Trump's policies took Iran at its word and helped transform the Middle East through cooperation in the face of a common threat. Look no further than the historic Abraham Accords.
Despite making no concessions on its role as the largest state-sponsor of terrorism and its recent, barbaric execution of two gay men, Iran receives repeated gifts from the West. Discussions on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are in full swing and, as representatives negotiate the “final stage,” the United States has tossed aside all leverage.
Negotiations over the JCPOA may appear to be a global show of unity, complete with representatives of the United States, China, European Union, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom, but it is a shame. China and Russia are undermining efforts by the West to hold Iran accountable to international norms.
The Iranian-backed Houthis, a pariah organization that Biden removed from the global terror list, obtained and launched a ballistic missile at the United Arab Emirates during the first-ever visit by an Israeli president. Neither China nor Russia made any public condemnation. This should not be surprising. After all, both nations benefit from stoking greater chaos in the region and diverting U.S. attention from their territorial ambitions.
China, the largest purchaser of sanctioned Iranian oil, is the leading contributor to such horrific events, even going so far as to ink an agreement promising $400 billion in investment that all but promises continued oil exports for Iran. To state the obvious, China knowingly supports Iran’s efforts to foster global instability.
Iran continues to deploy its “ghost armada” to sell oil and weapons on the black market, and successfully at that. Under Biden’s watch, Iran’s oil exports have soared 40 percent, and Iran has increased its rainy-day fund from a mere $4 billion to $31 billion. These funds will help Iran weather sanctions, independently advance its nefarious nuclear schemes, or increase support for terrorist organizations.
Iranian officials recently announced the creation of a budget forecast based on exports of 1.2 million barrels of oil per day. Apparently, Iran views China’s demand and commitment as a sufficiently stable predictive factor for state revenue. What’s more, Iran has announced plans to increase production from 2.2 to 3.5 million barrels a day. This could only be achieved through the benevolence of Iran’s accomplices.
The Trump administration, for years, worked with leading senators, including Senators James Risch (R-ID) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) to ensure that the United States had the resources and capabilities to monitor and intervene in Iran’s shadow economy, while also standing firm in the face of other American adversaries.
The Biden administration proves it is either unwilling or incapable of simultaneously addressing the myriad threats facing Americans. Biden’s waiver of several sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector and the decline in illicit tanker seizures point to the former.
If Biden truly wishes for a “return to normalcy,” then accountability, consequences, and good faith must define such a concept. Iranian and Chinese entities engaged in black market oil trade must face the consequences of U.S. economic sanctions. The mere existence of this trade during the already heavily scrutinized JCPOA negotiations is a disservice to Americans of all political preference.
The credibility of U.S. foreign policy is straining under the current policies more than ever. As America faces the possibility of levying sanctions on Russia, we must recognize that the U.S. risks undermining the credibility of such actions if it repeatedly refuses to enforce them. We must also always judge Iran by its actions, not just its words.
Sam Buchan served as Director on the White House National Economic Council and Senior Advisor to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. He is an energy and foreign policy strategy consultant.
Image: A warship and a helicopter attend a joint naval exercise of the Iranian, Chinese and Russian navies in the northern Indian Ocean January 20, 2022. Reuters.