But wait, I also detect some beads of sweat on the brow of the Iranian player. After all, what will the Iranian people say if the regime has to tell them that after three years of living under all the stress of tighter sanctions and a pandemic, they can look forward to endless sanctions and the Omicron variant. Sure, China will buy some of Iran’s oil so the government can keep the lights on. But with Iran already facing huge water shortages fueled by climate change, if the regime won’t negotiate an end to sanctions, the Iranian street could blow up at any time. The Iranian hand is weaker than it looks.
Meanwhile, the Israeli player is grimacing, holding his cards really tightly and simultaneously twiddling his F-35 chips and his Dolphin-class submarines in the Persian Gulf outfitted with nuclear-armed cruise missiles. His eyes keep darting back and forth between the Iranian player and Joe Biden — unsure who to worry about most.
For years the Israelis have been hearing American presidents say that they will not permit Iran to get a bomb. At first, they celebrated Trump’s withdrawing from the deal and reimposing sanctions. Why not? They thought that would both weaken Iran’s effort to get a bomb and its attempts to push precision-guided missiles aimed at Israel to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon and Syria. But that’s not what happened.
It turns out that Trump and Pompeo overplayed their hand. Had they been savvy, they would have told the Iranians that the U.S. would restore the deal and lift sanctions if Iran would just agree to forgo enrichment to levels needed for a nuclear weapon for, say, 25 years — rather than the original 15 years. (I would have applauded that.) But, instead, they demanded changes in Iran’s behavior so sweeping that the regime understood that the sanctions would never end.
The Iranian leaders let Trump and Pompeo know that they were homicidal, not suicidal. And they went out and got China to buy their oil and started enriching enough uranium to make themselves a threshold nuclear state.
Alas, Trump and Pompeo had no plan B if Iran called their bluff. For all of Trump’s bluster, he not only was not going to bomb Iran, he wouldn’t even retaliate when the Iranians lashed out with cruise missiles and blew up one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil facilities. Everyone in the neighborhood took note.
So what did Trump do in the end? He gave this terrible hand to Biden.
Poor Joe. But Biden did not play that hand particularly well, either. Rather than immediately move to revoke Trump’s sanctions and restore compliance, in return for Iran rolling back its uranium stockpile, Biden got embroiled in a diplomatic mud fight with the Iranians over who would go first. And with his urgent focus on getting out of the Middle East — starting with Afghanistan — Biden did not exactly strike fear into the hearts of the Iranians. So nobody went first, and Iran kept enriching.