It was without a doubt the most important phrase he uttered since the launch of his presidential campaign in the United States. While taking great care in a television interview to emphasize explicitly that his presidency will not be “a third Obama term,” Joe Biden hit a sore spot, probably in an attempt to calm the strong reservations that people in more than one area have shown on this issue. And at the same time, he barely hid his recognition of the disastrous and devastating nature of the foreign policy that his mentor, Barack Obama, followed — at least as far as the Middle East, and more precisely Iran, is concerned. In this way, Biden’s words are an implicit, public disavowal of certain choices made by the man with whom he shared the Democratic ticket before Donald Trump’s election.
The Iran nuclear deal and its many consequences for the region will naturally be one of the first matters that the new American administration will address. Without a doubt, this administration will have its work cut out for itself in this regard. And for a good reason: The course of action that Obama adopted in this part of the world has thrown the Middle East into a situation of permanent war, anarchy, and chronically unstable security whose effects are vehemently felt today, even though the Trump administration spent four years working carefully to rectify the situation.
In order to rationally determine in the near future whether Biden will be able to keep his promise not to embark upon “a third Obama term,” a reminder of the former Democratic administration’s course of action seems appropriate. Obama centered his strategy in the Middle East on two fundamental options. One was supporting the Muslim Brotherhood movement, more precisely the Egyptian government at the time (Mohammed Morsi’s government), which only reinforced the regional structure of Recip Tayyep Erdogan’s Turkey and sowed the seeds of conflict. The other was the stubborn search for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, even at the cost of green-lighting the expansion of the Pasdaran.* For the former president, signing this agreement became a primary objective to realize at all costs. That explains, namely, why he happily closed his eyes (if one is to believe a variety of U.S. sources) to Hezbollah’s illegal activities in the United States and, above all, why he was content with a vague understanding with Russia when it came to Bashar Assad regime’s disposal of its chemical weapons after using them against civilians in Ghouta in August 2013, even though Obama had publicly said that the use of such weapons was a “red line” that would elicit a firm response from him if crossed. The understanding with Moscow would, in September 2013, prove itself to be what one could expect — entirely theoretical. All smoke and mirrors. It was in fact naive, or rather misleading, to make people believe that the tyrant of Damascus would not quickly find a way around the U.S.-Russia accord.
But worse yet are the conditions under which the Iran nuclear deal was finalized. Determined to achieve this goal at all costs, Obama accepted the Pasdaran’s terms, including the ballistic arsenal and, above all, that their expansionist policy in the region was to be left out of the negotiations as well as the final agreement. The mullahs thus got what they wanted the most, lifting sanctions and recovery of huge amounts of money that the U.S. government had frozen (a good part of which was paid in cash), without the Pasdaran having to give up their vast destabilization in the region.
It is precisely this last point (alongside the ballistic missiles affair) that will constitute one of the biggest challenges the next occupant of the White House will be called upon to deal with. Will Biden and his newly nominated secretary of state, Francophile Antony Blinken (an architect of the nuclear deal), make Obama’s strategic error again and lift sanctions on slim conditions, thus giving the Guardians of the Revolution free reign all over again to carry on with their war and their outrageous mission of destabilization, which would be fatal for Lebanon and a number of other countries in the Middle East? With certain Gulf states and Israel actively normalizing their ties, new possibilities for peace seem to be on the horizon. The new U.S. administration is duty bound to demarcate, to strengthen and to grow this path toward peace. For Iran’s radical and warmongering wing, the prize in this next stage will no doubt be to exploit the friendly policy that the next occupant of the White House may implement in order to torpedo the new possibilities opening up in the region. Because, for the standard bearers of the Islamic Revolution’s mission to expand by use of force, chronic instability and the climate of permanent war, without an end in sight, are real business assets and provide an inexhaustible reserve of oxygen.
*Editor’s note: Pasdaran is an informal name for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran.