Is Joe Biden Afraid of Iran?

Joe Biden

Is Joe Biden Afraid of Iran?

Fear of the unknown is no way to lead. President Joe Biden needs to find the courage to embrace U.S. superiority to achieve escalation dominance and bring the regime in Tehran to heel.

On October 10, 2023, just three days following Hamas’s savage attack on Southern Israel, President Biden ominously delivered a message to “anyone interested in taking advantage of the current situation” between Israel and Hamas. He stated firmly, “I have one word: don’t, don’t,” as though a subtle verbal threat of escalation was equal to an overt commitment to escalation. It’s not. 

Everyone knows, even Biden & co., that Iran is responsible for the attack in Jordan that killed three and injured thirty-four U.S. soldiers. It also knows who was behind the more than 150 rocket and drone attacks from Iraqi Shia militias on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, as well as Houthi targeting of international trade in the Red Sea. Prior to Friday’s retaliatory strikes, the administration had responded with three rounds of strikes against the Houthis without responding to provocations against U.S. forces in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. Now, after days of warning, the White House began targeting the proxy groups. 

Despite Iran’s escalatory actions, many of which have harmed or killed American service members, Mr. Biden’s National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, John Kirby, has stated here, here, and here that the administration does not seek to escalate the conflict and does not seek war with Iran—music to the Mullah’s ears. 

The United States may not seek to escalate the conflict in the Middle East, but Iran does. 

Matthew Kroenig, Vice President and Senior Director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, wrote The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy. In it, he writes, “[T]he greater the degree of nuclear advantage a state has over its adversary, the less its relative cost of nuclear war, the more likely it will be to achieve its goals in a serious crisis, and the less likely it will be subjected to a military challenge in the first place.” 

Mr. Kroenig calls his theory the “Superiority-Brinksmanship Synthesis Theory,” which speaks for itself. Simply stated, the more nuclear-capable a country is, the more confident its leadership should be in escalating a conflict to the point where the opposing side gives up. 

At present, Iran has no nuclear capability to harm the United States or any of its allies. However, the administration’s current Iran policy seems to be encouraging Iran to get there. 

Moreover, Iran’s economy is roughly one-sixtieth the size of the U.S. economy. It possesses a dinky navy, no aircraft carriers, no bombers, and no advanced or fifth-generation fighter jets. When President Biden issued his now famous “Don’t, don’t,” didn’t he have some plan to put the Superiority Brinksmanship Synthesis Theory to work? 

Iran is a schoolyard bully willing to pick fights with any country, even the United States, and it seems to be working in Iran’s favor. Like all bullies, Iran will escalate until there is sufficient reason for it to back down. The United States has not only given Iran no reason to back down but also encouraged it to keep escalating. 

Under the administration’s watch, Iran has increased its nuclear capabilities to such a degree that many experts believe it has enough enriched uranium to produce at least five nuclear weapons. By failing to escalate, or at least hold firm, the administration has given Iran plenty of room to maneuver. 

The Iranian-backed Houthis have launched dozens of attacks against ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, including targeting a U.S. Navy ship using Iranian-made drones and missiles. 

The response from the White House? Verbal warnings and some targeted strikes against Houthi positions. These strikes were sorely insufficient to deter future Houthi attacks and most definitely not sufficient to deter Iran’s support. 

Iran, vis-à-vis Houthi attacks, is causing chaos in international shipping. Ships can no longer risk moving through the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea to pass through the Suez Canal. Adjusting course drastically increases the lengths of their routes, thus increasing fuel, shipping, and insurance costs. 

President Reagan’s “peace through strength” strategy was likely the 1980s version of the “Superiority Brinksmanship Synthesis Theory.” It ended with another nuclear power going out of business. 

The United States was materially superior to the USSR in almost every way, but it was our democratic strength and our capitalistic prowess that gave President Reagan confidence in U.S. superiority. That permitted him to escalate the conflict and bring the Soviet Union to the brink of its demise. 

In 2018, President Trump put Iran on notice by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and then slapping sanctions on Iran. When, in 2019, Iran later escalated by downing a U.S. drone and then attacking Saudi Aramco facilities (neither of which drew an immediate response), President Trump authorized the assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qasem Soleimani.

Soleimani’s assassination was as direct a blow to Iran as any that had yet been taken. Despite Iran’s threats to retaliate, nothing came of it throughout the rest of Trump’s presidency. 

Escalation requires courage and confidence. Unfortunately, Mr. Biden seems to lack both, and that weakness has resulted in feckless responses to Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism and the world’s weakest bully. 

Fear of the unknown is no way to lead. President Biden must find the courage to embrace U.S. superiority to achieve escalation dominance and bring the regime in Tehran to heel. 

About the Author 

E. J. Kimball is the President of EJK Strategies, a national security consulting firm. Mr. Kimball served as Foreign Policy Counsel to former U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC) and staff director of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus.

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