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Why Biden should ignore the latest move to halt diplomacy with Iran

A new letter from Senate Republicans once again displays the bankruptcy of ‘maximum pressure.’

In the midst of the latest round of horrific violence between Israelis and Palestinians that has left scores dead and threatens to expand into a Gaza ground war and even a civil war within Israel, hawks here in the United States see an opportunity to kill any diplomatic breakthrough with Iran and throughout the Middle East.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the vast majority of the Republican senate caucus on Thursday sent a letter to President Biden arguing that the answer to the endless cycle of Middle East violence is more violence and less diplomacy. More specifically, they call for Biden to end the ongoing multiparty negotiations with Iran that seek to restore restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and which are aimed at establishing a sustained diplomatic effort not just to resolve further challenges with Iran, but throughout the region. 

This desperate, opportunistic attempt to sabotage diplomacy in favor of confining the United States and the region to an endless cycle of violence is nothing new. Yet it comes as many of the letter’s signers have been promoting a fiction in recent months that peace is breaking out across the Middle East, thanks to Donald Trump.

According to this view, the Abraham Accords that brought peace to countries that were not at war, a U.S. blank check for apartheid conditions against Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, and the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal in favor of sanctions and flirtations with all-out war, are the path to peace and stability.

While normalization between a few monarchies and Israel’s government was celebrated to much fanfare, it papered over the myriad festering crises afflicting the region and sought to exacerbate rather than resolve a simmering proxy war with Iran. Now that a renewed outbreak of violence in Israel has exposed that lie, the answer of Trump’s erstwhile cheerleaders is to reject the very thing that the region most needs: urgent diplomacy aimed at addressing the root causes of the region’s violence.

The Rubio letter yet again exposes the bankruptcy of their approach. Rather than supporting U.S. diplomacy — which has recently helped lead Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table to put an end to the proxy wars that have decimated and destabilized the region — the Rubio worldview is that the United States and Israel can simply go into the state or territory that is causing problems every few years and bomb away its infrastructure.

According to this view, addressing the conflicts central to the instability and violence in the region through diplomacy is unnecessary when you can simply treat these problems as an infestation that needs to be rolled back with regular kinetic action, or as some Israeli officials have referred to it — “mowing the lawn.” That means bombing away infrastructure in Gaza or Lebanon every few years to keep perpetual threats at bay. For Iran, the envisioned plan is to abandon negotiated constraints and instead routinely bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities if they get close to nuclear breakout, as if nuclearization were merely a matter of means rather than will.

“Mowing the lawn” isn’t a viable strategy for peace and security, which is all too apparent today. The Biden administration must engage forcefully in support of a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants like Hamas, halt the violent mobs terrorizing the populace on ethnic lines, and address the root causes of the conflict in the too-long-ignored occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Likewise, on Iran, the answer is not to halt engagement. The Iran nuclear agreement had succeeded in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, with Iran directing the majority of its relief toward domestic needs, until Trump ripped it up. Trump’s maximum pressure ultimately unleashed Iran’s nuclear program and escalated tensions to the point where we stood on the brink of war with Iran just a little over a year ago. Under “maximum pressure,” ordinary Iranians have been unable to access life-saving medicine or put food on the table, but Iran’s government prioritized investments in its military — including its “forward defense” doctrine which relies on proxy or aligned forces across the region, including Hamas. 

Maximum pressure was an abject failure necessitating urgent diplomacy across the board, and the JCPOA is one of Biden’s exit ramps. Pulling back now, with a resolution of the nuclear issue and nascent but promising regional talks underway, would be a disastrous mistake. Perhaps that is one reason why Biden’s domestic opponents want to lock him out of diplomacy and on the path to confrontation.

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