With stalled negotiations and increasing protests, the Biden administration finally declared that there would not be a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic anytime soon. This statement came as many Democratic figures, including former President Obama and members of the pro-Iran lobby in DC, came out in support of the Iranian protestors. Those are not trivial developments, yet they are nowhere near articulating a post-JCPOA US policy toward Iran. If anything, this seems like a recognition of circumstances during a time that is increasingly politically sensitive both domestically and internationally. With NIAC activists still close to the administration, one must wonder if the delusion of better relations with Iran still has a future.
For the past 18 months, the United States and Western powers insisted on pursuing a bifurcated Iran policy in which the negotiations to join a new nuclear deal with Iran were kept separate from other issues with Iranian behavior, whether it was regional terrorism or increasing human rights violations. Even as United States’ allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and GCC countries voiced serious concerns with an approach that seemed to sacrifice their own security for placating Iranian negotiators, the United States insisted on its position regardless of such concerns. This issue played a not-so-minor role in the deterioration of relations between the United States and its Arab allies, leading to escalating tensions that the administration seems unwilling or unable to contain.
The news about IRGC plots in Maryland and Washington to assassinate former senior American government officials weren’t an obstacle either, even as Iranian negotiators asked to delist the IRGC from the foreign terrorist organizations’ list. Even when civil unrest and protests broke out in Iran due to the increasing violence of the Iranian morality police against women, the administration’s initial reaction was to assert there was no contradiction between negotiating a deal with Iran and supporting Iranian women, a weird position since naturally the sanctions relief funds that Iran was going to receive if a deal was to go through would have been used to fund increasing repression and actions of imprisonment, torture, and the execution of protestors. For the administration, a possibility of a deal with Iran, no matter how increasingly unrealistic, became a vehicle of wish fulfillment rather than a sound policy option.
As the founder of psychoanalysis taught us, a delusion held for so long, even at the peril of disconnecting one from reality, ultimately becomes a neurotic failure to accept and adapt to reality. We all must be thankful that the administration finally decided to pull the plug on the delusion of good-faith relations with Iran before it became such a state. This was likely due to the compound effects of Iran refusing to accept a deal, no matter how generous, and increasing public pressure on the administration to stand with the Iranian people. Daily news of young women beaten to death is hard to ignore, especially for an administration that insisted on irreversibly damaging some of America’s most important strategic relationships because of human rights concerns. Moreover, the increasing Iranian military logistical support for Russia in its war in Ukraine makes it impossible to separate the two antagonists, a conclusion that should have been made much earlier.
However, saying that the negotiations reached their dead end is not a new policy and shouldn’t be treated as one. Europe is yet to trigger snapback sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, and American officials, many of whom are still meeting with NIAC pro-Iran activists, are yet to articulate the new US policy to contain Iranian nuclear ambitions and support the Iranian people.
Does the administration have an alternative policy to JCPOA 2.0? The answer is a decisive no. The recent mishandling of the OPEC oil decision, which likely signals an irreversible rift in American Saudi relations, shows that the administration is acting more on an uncalculated impulse of an unpredictable environment instead of using a realist, moderate, and sober foreign policy strategy. If the cold water the administration just poured over the negotiations with Iran is of such an impulsive nature, and we have no reason to think otherwise, and if the administration fails to come up with a new Iran policy, then there is very little doubt that the delusion is likely to resurface once the conditions permit. As a matter of fact, and since Robert Malley and his team are still part of this administration, it doesn’t seem that the delusion was even given up but merely assimilated in an enforced respite. It is unclear and unlikely that the administration is actually on a path to political sobriety.
On the other side, a respite for Iran is never a respite at all. Since the beginning of the negotiations in April 2021, Iran has increased its nuclear activities in scale and scope. Some of Iran’s most significant nuclear leaps were achieved under the watch of this administration with its increasingly gentle handling of the Iranian file. The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, has been denied access and left without any monitoring capabilities. In summary, Iran seems to be moved by a strategic vision much more than American officials actually are.
This does not look good for the United States, our allies, or the Iranian people now seeking to shake off this regime. If Iran reaches threshold status, it will be near impossible to stop the ever more brutal repression of protestors. Such a possible disaster, both for international security and human rights, will have no one to blame but the administration of highly trained technocrats who proclaimed the return of American expertise and human rights-centered foreign policy. If such a class of unmatched experts insists on its delusions and refuses to recognize and correct the structural flaws which brought us all to this moment, political neurosis will be unavoidable, and America may see the rise of political consequences in which political reality entirely disappears.
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