Biden said ‘Diplomacy is back!’ Then he started dropping bombs

If the US returned to the deal and Iran didn’t, rebuking it would be fully justified


This week, he began dropping bombs on Syria. The target was facilities used by Iran-backed militias in retaliation for rocket attacks against US troops in Iraq. Presumably, Biden wanted to signal Iran that it would pay a heavy price if it ordered attacks against US troops in order to pressure Washington to return to the Iran nuclear deal.

By bombing Syria for this reason, Biden proved how failing to rejoin the nuclear agreement endangers US national security.

I write about the Syria attacks and how it plays into the JCPOA diplomacy in the Guardian today. Your thoughts are welcome.

Sincerely, Trita Parsi, PhD

The Guardian …Feb 26, 2021

“Diplomacy is back!” President Joe Biden declared at the Munich Security Conference last week. But so is bombing Syria, apparently. Biden has only been president a bit more than a month, but he has already ordered his first bombing campaign. (It took Trump four months to do the same.) The target was facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran-backed militia in retaliation for rocket attacks against US troops in Iraq earlier this month.

Presumably, Biden wanted to signal to Iran that it would pay a heavy price if it ordered attacks against US troops in order to pressure Washington to return to the Iran nuclear deal. But by bombing Syria for this reason, Biden proved how failing to rejoin the nuclear agreement endangers US national security – Iran’s nuclear program continues to advance while the US and Iran glide closer to a military confrontation.

Biden knows these arguments quite well. He made them against Donald Trump only a few months ago. His top officials have spent the past years extensively criticizing Trump’s maximum pressure strategy. They were all correct.

Which makes his steps on Iran in his first month all the more perplexing. While Biden’s intent to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) seems unquestionable, good intentions and good strategy are not the same thing. Rather than bringing diplomacy back, Biden appears to be falling back into old patterns where appearing tough trumps being smart and where diplomacy is merely a slogan sprinkled on policies centered on coercion, not a genuine give and take.

Of course, few doubted that reviving the JCPOA would be without challenge. And the lack of priority given to Iran may simply be due to the plethora of domestic and international crises Biden has to attend to with less than a full staff.

Yet, these exonerating circumstances do not explain the many seemingly unnecessary and counterproductive measures the Biden administration has taken on the JCPOA since taking office.

First, the administration rather unnecessarily decided to create a public feud over whether Iran or the US would have to take the first step towards reviving the JCPOA.

Instead of carefully working with the Europeans to design a choreography that would enable both sides to move simultaneously, and by that, avoid a conflict over chronology altogether, Biden officials repeatedly made public demands that Iran had to take the first step before any of Trump’s JCPOA-violating sanctions could be lifted – even though it was the US that left the agreement.

This won’t work. Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama’s former lead negotiator and Biden’s pick for deputy secretary of state, said as much in September 2019. Sherman said she “would be shocked if Iran agreed to a meeting without some sanctions relief” and that there “are plenty of ways to do this so that everyone’s interests can be met and so that everyone’s face can be saved”. Sherman was right then and she is right now.

Even if Biden calculated that a small public confrontation could serve the administration’s broader purposes, it should not have been over an issue where the US neither has persuasive moral nor legal arguments.

Secondly, even before diplomacy has begun, the Biden administration has seemingly initiated a highly unproductive blame game that has further damaged the atmospherics for diplomacy. The administration’s messaging has been to emphasize that Iran is the party out of compliance with the JCPOA – which is technically false – and that the future of the deal hinges on Iran coming back into compliance.

Even though it is the US that left the deal while Iran is still in it. While Iran has reduced its obligations in accordance to paragraph 36 of the JCPOA, that is fundamentally different from the US leaving the deal and imposing sanctions on countries that seek to abide by the nuclear accord.

Biden’s attitude has been that the US simply is not responsible for the actions of the Trump administration. America has a new president now and as a result, it starts off with a clean slate unburdened by the many transgressions of Donald Trump. Consequently, it is Iran that is in the wrong, not America. All the US needed to do to regain the moral high ground was to elect a new president – even though the new president is continuing the policies of the old president.

The blame game is further fought at the International Atomic Energy Agency now. Reports indicate that the US and the EU are seeking to rebuke Iran for reducing its cooperation with the IAEA. Tehran’s actions are certainly worthy of censure. But again, the problem is that the US has abandoned all of its obligations while Tehran has reduced some of its own.

If the US returned to the deal and Iran didn’t, rebuking it would be fully justified. But doing so now when the US still remains outside of the deal is simply kafkaesque. It’s not even a clever way of playing the blame game.

Even if the US succeeds in shifting the blame to Iran, the question is what the value of that is at this point. In this early stage of diplomacy, the parties should be seeking to create the best possible atmosphere for talks. They should demonstrate their positive intent and commitment to finding a diplomatic solution.

Descending into a public blame game is what the parties do when talks start to break down – it’s not an effective measure to get talks going. All it does, intentionally or not, is to signal insincerity, perhaps even bad intent.

That is certainly how Biden’s maneuvering has been read in Tehran. Whatever advantage Biden thinks he gains through military signaling in Syria and by playing the blame game in the media, if it sabotages what arguably is the final opportunity to revive an accord that is critical to US national security, then Biden may inadvertently achieve what Trump couldn’t: destroying the legacy of Obama’s main foreign policy achievement.

Trita Parsi is the Executive Vice president of the Quincy Institute and author of Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy


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  1. Biden resembles the leader in the movie “Mars attack” that keeps saying “we come in peace” but then annihilates those that came to greet him. He’s another true president of US, that can’t be trusted and is 100% bought and paid for by the Zionist lobby… “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Mat 23:38).

  2. The headline photo of dead mangled bodies outside a blown out bus – Is this photo of the Biden -attack that just happened where two F15s dropped 500lb bombs on Iraq/Syria border? Or something else??

  3. What we focus on expands. Would the world really eat itself if we just went quiet for a few months and stopped bombing ?
    I live not far from an airport, and before flights decreased, it was the mindset of people that flying was a keystone to survival. Now it’s nice and quiet, and it does not seem that life was significantly affected.
    Our greatest chance at transformation was 9/11. We should not have budged. We are a bully rushing to the demands of loudmouths. Just like the big lunks at the capitol insurrection.

  4. “While Biden’s intent to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) seems unquestionable,”
    Really? “unquestionable”? I should have thought that by now it was highly questionable! If ever there was a clear example of “Foot-dragging” I would have thought that this was it.
    It also seems a clear example of how the US government is quite unaware of how its actions look to the outside world. They flounce out of the JCPOA and then demand that Iran “Come into compliance” with it! Do they imagine that anyone outside the US is impressed? They talk about China, Russia, Venezuela etc. not “abiding by the rules” while they are themselves are in Iraq Illegally, in Syria stealing oil, illegally occupying Diego Garcia, interfering in China’s Civil War, illegally occupying Afghanistan, spying on everybody everywhere and so on. Not to mention their sabotage of the WTO and the WHO and the covering for Israel’s War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity and making personal threats against the personnel of the ICJ and the ICC!

    • How quickly you ReTrumplicans forget that your fearless leader was totally beholden to the Zionists, most of whom are Christian, in the USA. He is still their ticket to the Rapture and did everything he could to provoke war with Iran which would kick off that transformative, apocalyptic conflict that would be the end of the USA as we know it and the beginning of some kind of world theocracy. As pastor John Hagee once said, “There are fifty million Bible-reading Christians who stand with Israel.” And, I might add, every single one of them voted for Trump in the last election. If you didn’t notice the religious fervor of those who stormed the Capitol, you weren’t paying attention.

    • John Hagee’s operation is run by Israelis (who despise him with a passion yet suffer him for the $1.5 Billion COFI already raised for Israel – tax free no doubt: not to mention the fifty million votes on-the-barrelhead to push the Israeli political agenda). Whatever became of those “Soldiers of Jesus Christ and heirs to the kingdom of Heaven” who should have resolved the Hagee issue long ago! I’m not talking about putting cross-hairs on Hagee’s resplendently empty skull but more putting a legal argument together before a jury of his peers. Anyone who makes a god of an entity like a patch of ground or deifies a country promotes idolatry … and then some. Precedent? What about the Clarence Darrow vs William Jennings Bryan “Scopes Monkey Trial”. We need an attorney to challenge Hagee in court to expose the sham religion he expounds and false Christianity not to mention the direct/indirect slaughter of Muslims throughout the Middle East through suspect financial aid to Israel. We all know the Khazars/Ashkenazi crew of wanna-be’s have continued to isolate and crush the Sephardi – the only true Jews in their midst. Yet, these are the people Hagee would have us imagine he is helping to turn to Christ. Duh! So who gets the moolah? Not the Sephardi we can be sure. Barry Chamish, would have had an interesting take on the issue. Yes, he who blamed the Jewish Agency for the deaths of 800,000 Hungarian Jews in WW2. Ref: Shabtai Tzvi, Labor Zionism and the Holocaust”

  5. “is the final opportunity to revive an accord that is critical to US national security, then Biden may inadvertently achieve what Trump couldn’t”

    Trita is missing to see that Trump is the one who messed it all up permanently. In fact when Obama came in back in 2009 many thought that Neocon’s of Bush would go into hiding. But Neocons have their tentacles in every hole. Obama was pressured during his entire eight years to remain at least partially in war fronts. Now Trump’s likudniks are all over the US administration and doing the rest of what was missed throughout his first and only term to follow up and get to war.
    Trump takes the credit.

  6. “Which makes his steps on Iran in his first month all the more perplexing.”
    Nothing perplexing there! Biden is an Israeli puppet, just like Trump. I am surprised that nobody, in reporting this attack on Syria (which is not even blamed for the attack on the US’s illegal bases in Iraq) mentions that it is another War Crime. Perhaps. these days, war crimes are so two-a-penny that they are not worth remarking?

  7. You have to remember that Syria is part of “Greater Israel”, from the Nile to the Euphrates as the Zionists would have it. That’s why Israel has no real permanent borders. That’s why the USA is still in Iraq and Syria, to appease the Zionists in both political parties. The ReTrumplicans had their turn, now the Dems will become their willing slaves.

    Netanyahu said back in 1990, over a decade before Israel attacked us on 9/11: “… America is a golden calf and we will suck it dry, chop it up, and sell it off piece by piece until there is nothing left but the world’s biggest welfare state that we will create and control. Why? Because it is the will of God and America is big enough to take the hit so we can do it again and again and again. This is what we do to countries that we hate. We destroy them very slowly and make them suffer for refusing to be our slaves.”

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