If you think President Biden has trouble at home, take a look at what’s happening around the world. Iran, Russia and China are all seeking to establish new regional hegemony, and they’re often working together to do it. Their leaders don’t appear to believe Mr. Biden can or will do anything to stop them.
Iran revealed its disdain for U.S. entreaties last week as nuclear talks resumed in Vienna. The U.S. opened the proceedings with a sanctions waiver to let Iran sell electricity to Iraq. The result? A senior U.S. official conceded Saturday, after the latest round of talks finished, that Iran had shown no willingness to slow its uranium enrichment and even walked back its agreements from previous rounds.
U.S. and European officials briefed the press about Iran’s intransigence but seemed at a loss about how to respond. The Iranians are “continuing to accelerate their nuclear program in particularly provocative ways,” a U.S. official told the press on background, and their “latest provocation” was preparing “for the doubling of their production capacity of 20% enriched uranium” at its secret Fordow facility.
Sounds serious. So what is the U.S. prepared to do? It will beg Iran some more to return to the table with a better attitude.
“The world is prepared to support a mutual return to compliance by both sides. The world is prepared even to engage economically with Iran and diplomatically with Iran. But for that, Iran has to show seriousness at the table and be prepared to come back in short order in compliance with the deal,” the U.S. official said. Pleading with Iran to do what it has already refused to do will reinforce the view in Tehran that it will pay no price if it keeps enriching uranium until it gets to the brink of having a bomb.
The Biden Administration’s problem is that it came into office believing that the main threat to world stability was Donald Trump. It really seemed to believe that if the U.S. offered to end sanctions against Iran, the regime in Tehran would return to the 2015 deal.
The U.S. eased some sanctions pre-emptively and hasn’t been willing to hold Iran accountable for refusing to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to monitor its nuclear progress. Asked if the U.S. will offer a censure resolution against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.S. official danced around.
China is buying Iranian oil in violation of U.S. sanctions, but the U.S. is also doing little about that. The Biden official said that was best handled “diplomatically” and that the President had taken it up directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mr. Biden weakened Mr. Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran’s nuclear program and has put nothing but diplomatic entreaties in its place.
Moving on to Russia, the Administration leaked on Friday that it believes Vladimir Putin is moving forces in preparation for an invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. “The plans involve extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups with an estimated 175,000 personnel, along with armor, artillery and equipment,” a U.S. official told the Washington Post.
The U.S. is predicting dire consequences if Russia does invade, but it hasn’t sold more weapons to Ukraine and couldn’t marshal much collective action at last week’s meeting of NATO ministers. The White House says Mr. Biden will talk with Mr. Putin in a virtual call on Tuesday, though after their first meeting the Russian became more aggressive.
Mr. Biden came to office promising to talk tough against Mr. Putin, unlike Mr. Trump, but his actions have been weaker. He withdrew U.S. sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe, even as he tries at every turn to restrict U.S. oil and gas production. Higher global energy prices empower Mr. Putin and Iran.
The American press has forgotten about Afghanistan, but the rest of the world hasn’t. Direct cause and effect are hard to know, but it seems increasingly likely that Mr. Biden’s catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan has raised doubts among adversaries about U.S. commitments and the President’s judgment. They aim to take advantage.
The world is entering a dangerous period. The hard men in Moscow, Tehran and Beijing are going to test Mr. Biden to expand their power and spheres of influence, and it isn’t at all clear if or how Mr. Biden will respond.