History suggests that Joe Biden’s response to Iran for its proxy forces killing three American soldiers will be weak. It will invite further attacks. And it won’t deal with the elephant in the room: Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.
“I don’t think we need a wider war,” he said on Tuesday, revealing his shaky hand to Tehran.
Biden has paid a $6 billion ransom to Tehran for the return of US hostages, relaxed sanctions to allow the regime to make an additional $35 billion in oil exports, and so far failed to respond in a meaningful way to counteract recent Iranian aggression in the Middle East.
And, most crucially, his failed nuclear negotiations with the regime have allowed it to almost develop a nuclear bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency has warned that Tehran is “close” to weapons-grade material.
Iran has already given him a get-out. Its proxy — Kataib Hezbollah — that killed the three American soldiers said on Tuesday it was halting attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria. That may be enough for Biden, who clearly does not want confrontation, to dial down his response.
Tehran also gave him a warning. Shortly after the announcement, Houthi militants fired an anti-ship cruise missile from Yemen towards the Red Sea which was shot down by a US warship. If Biden launches a major attack, Iran wants him to know it will inflame the region.
However, he should bear in mind that when Donald Trump had Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani killed, Iran’s response was two rather muted rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq that resulted in no deaths.
Biden’s calculation may serve him in the short term. If he can get away with doing the bare minimum to satisfy American honour the incident will be forgotten, the news cycle will move on. He knows that Americans don’t really want another war in the Middle East.
But if he continues taking the path of least resistance he risks imperilling the country and the world. He will have blood on his hands if and when Iran kills more US service personnel. And he will have potentially jeopardised the safety of the entire planet if he allows Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Biden says he doesn’t want war, but if he doesn’t hit back firmly enough that’s exactly what he’ll stumble into.