Sun. May 19th, 2024

Time to Get Hands-On with Iran: The US Can’t Sit Back Anymore!

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May4,2024

There’s a saying, “You have the watches, we have the time,” built on the perception of faltering Western will and the staying power of U.S. forces in altercations overseas. 

During the Korean War, the World War II concepts of total victory, unconditional surrender and regime change were discarded in favor of protracted limited war, containment and negotiated settlement with the aggressors. The resulting stalemate, after three years of carnage and communist Chinese intervention, led to restoration of the status quo ante at the 38th Parallel. Ultimately, it produced a strong, democratic South Korea, now formally allied with the United States, though it is still existentially threatened by an aggressive, totalitarian and now nuclear-armed North Korea protected by China. Regime change was never considered for North Vietnam, another of Beijing’s Communist allies. 

In the extended post-Korea conflicts — what Donald Trump and Joe Biden disparage as “forever wars” — the West has generally ended up worse off strategically and ideologically. The Afghanistan debacle repeated the tragedy in Vietnam and reinforced the perception that in tests of resolve, autocrats will outlast the democracies. 

Today, the world is witnessing three concurrent and coordinated challenges to Western will, as authoritarian powers threaten the rules-based international order and attack democracies in Ukraine and Israel while preparing to do so in Taiwan. Despite the Biden administration’s rhetoric about “having the back” of America’s friends and “ironclad” U.S. commitments to their security, Western resolve is already fraying in the two ongoing conflicts and is generating doubts in the Indo-Pacific. 

Ukraine-Russia 

After George W. Bush stood by when Vladimir Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 to begin reconstituting the Soviet/Russian Empire, the Obama-Biden administration similarly acquiesced in Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, when it illegally annexed Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. 

In that same year, Putin and his Syrian ally, Bashar al Assad, crossed and stared down Obama’s two “red lines” — Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his people and his retention of power after multiple crimes against humanity — confirming Obama’s 2012 promise to then Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to be “more flexible after my reelection.” 

In February 2022, after Putin and Xi Jinping pledged a “no limits strategic partnership,” Russia again invaded Ukraine. The Biden administration boasted that it saw it coming but failed to deter Putin despite longstanding U.S. guarantees of Ukraine’s security. 

Biden said directly that defending Ukraine, even with a no-fly zone, “is World War III.”  Having witnessed the president’s naked fear, Putin repeatedly brandished nuclear threats to deter or delay delivery of Western weapons to the region. The intimidation worked on Biden and now on Donald Trump, the former president and 2024 presumptive GOP nominee who promises to end the war “in 24 hours,” perhaps like the exit from Afghanistan he and Biden pulled off.  

Ukraine’s expected counteroffensive last summer stalled and Ukraine now rations ammunition. The resulting stalemate has incentivized neo-isolationist congressional Republicans to heed Trump’s advice and block Ukraine aid. Biden’s timidity and Trump’s pro-Russian intervention have damaged Ukrainian and European morale and cheered the world’s authoritarians. 

Israel-Iran 

On Oct. 7, Putin’s birthday, Hamas launched its horrific attack on Israel. Biden rushed to embrace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and affirm America’s commitment to Israel’s security. When Israel began carrying out its strategic response to destroy Hamas, civilian casualties and suffering mounted as Hamas hid among the population as human shields, using a vast network of secure tunnels under the unprotected Palestinians exposed to the brunt of Israel’s response. The murderously cynical strategy succeeded in shifting global outrage against the original Israeli victims. 

Biden’s self-preservation instincts, particularly in an election year, have dramatically increased his criticism of Netanyahu. Given that widening U.S.-Israeli divide, Hamas has been emboldened to resist all Western efforts to negotiate the release of hostages and a cease-fire.  

Iran’s direct drone and missile barrage on Israel last week marked a major turning-point in the history of the Mideast. The U.S. pledged its full support of Israel’s defensive measures and participated in intercepting the vast majority of Iran’s incoming munitions. 

Now, in the face of an impending Israeli response, Biden is urging Netanyahu to “take the win” and avoid retaliating too vigorously — again, under the never-ending fear of escalation. Israel will do what it must to deter further Iranian aggression. 

But the Biden administration must address the regional and global dangers Iran presents. He should revisit the unfortunate hands-off decision he and Barack Obama made in 2009 when the Iranian people were very close to rejecting the power of the regime and sought American moral and political support to change it. 

No one took seriously Biden’s declaration that Putin’s multiple war crimes in Ukraine meant “This man cannot remain in power,” but Iran’s destabilizing campaign offers a propitious moment to reconnect with the Iranian people, who overwhelmingly want regime change.  

China-Taiwan 

Xi Jinping has not been deterred from reaffirming his intention to take control of Taiwan either “peacefully” — i.e., by economic and diplomatic coercion — or by the use of force. As part of his campaign, he keeps doubling down on investing his personal prestige and China’s world status on the “reunification” of Taiwan despite the People’s Republic never having ruled the island. 

The interlocking connections between Russia-Ukraine, Iran-Israel, and China-Taiwan mean that China has a vested interest in Putin’s success, which is why it continues to provide Russia with vitally needed funding and dual-use technology despite the threat of U.S. sanctions. It is time for the Biden administration to impose a serious price on Beijing for its collusion with Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine. 

At the same time, Biden must warn Xi that the West’s flawed response will not be repeated in a conflict over Taiwan, starting with his paralyzing inhibition against confronting Russia directly. Though he has repeatedly pledged a U.S. defense of Taiwan, administration officials have diluted each message. Washington must dispense with its dangerous policy of strategic ambiguity, which simply encourages Beijing to continue pushing the envelope of aggression against Taiwan. 

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and a member of the advisory board of the Global Taiwan Institute. Follow him on X @BoscoJosephA. 

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Time to Get Hands-On with Iran: The US Can’t Sit Back Anymore!”
  1. Is there a viable alternative to direct military action when facing such challenges, or are negotiations and containment the only feasible options?

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