Nine years ago, Barack Obama, with his vice president Joe Biden at his side, announced the Iran nuclear deal. Ayatollah Khamenei’s regime would not enrich weapons-grade uranium for 15 years. The US would lift economic sanctions in return. It was ‘historic’, said Obama. The Iranians had been close to developing their first nuke: this agreement stopped them. ‘This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change – change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure,’ added the president from the White House lectern.
If recent months are anything to go by, these diplomatic efforts to fix the Middle East have been a disaster. The region isn’t safer, nor more secure. Obama’s nuclear deal was too narrow. It gave Iran room to develop its proxy military and terror groups across the region. The main dividing line in the Middle East today is whether you’re on Iran’s side or not.
Under Donald Trump, America briefly took a hardline approach towards Iran. Trump’s administration hammered the Iranian economy with sanctions that cut its oil exports by four-fifths, and devalued its currency by two-thirds. Four years ago, a US drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani – the second-most powerful figure in Iran, commander of the Quds Force branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and a man central to the regime’s proxy network. Despite much bellicose talk, Iran’s response to his killing was minimal. Trump said his ‘maximum pressure’ campaign would force Khamenei and the mullahs into submission, stop Iran making a nuclear bomb, and end the regime-sponsored terrorism. It appeared to work.
But Biden’s White House returned to the Obama strategy. Prior to 7 October, his administration was doing its best to revive the old nuclear deal.