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Strategic Political Challenges Facing the US in 2023

Strategic Political Challenges Facing the US in 2023

Tuesday, 27 December, 2022 - 06:15
US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet at the G20 summit in Bali on November 14. (Reuters)

Iran remains one of the United States’ most pressing national security challenges, even while much of the world’s attention in 2022 has been focused on Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. Despite this enduring reality, the lack of a consistent American policy on Iran has only served to embolden the Iranian regime. As legislators look ahead to a new year and a new Congress, there is an opportunity to chart a new path forward.

The ever-changing US approach to Iran over the years has called into question our willingness to confront the regime. However, Iran supplying armed drones to Russia, coupled with protests against the Iranian regime, represents a potential “sea change” in American policy. It’s time the United States forge a more comprehensive Iran strategy that goes beyond a nuclear negotiation and encompasses all instruments of national power.

An effective Iran strategy must have clear diplomatic, economic, and military deterrence components, and must address all aspects of the regime’s bad conduct.

As many Americans go about their holiday plans, the Iranian regime is violently quashing protests inside its borders, plotting to kill former and current American officials both at home and abroad, making every effort to provide Lebanese Hezbollah with the means to destroy Israel, dramatically accelerating nuclear enrichment, and flooding the Ukrainian battlefield with armed drones. An effective US strategy must be scoped and resourced to address these problems and more.

On the economic front, Iran’s resistance economy must once again feel the full weight of the international community’s economic pressure. While the Biden Administration has announced additional sanctions against oil smugglers and Chinese purchases of Iranian oil, more must be done to enforce existing sanctions and close sanctions loopholes in coordination with our allies.

The US must also attack drone supply chains, to include components made in the United States and by our partners, and sanction those companies that fail to comply. The US Congress has so far failed to enact the Stop Iranian Drones Act, a powerful sanctions tool which would add Iran’s drone program to the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. It is critical to demonstrate the political will to address this deficiency as soon as possible.

Military deterrence has been sorely lacking, largely stemming from efforts to keep nuclear negotiations on life support. With only minor exceptions, the Biden Administration has failed to respond to repeated attacks against Americans and our interests. Moving forward, Iranian leadership must understand that the United States and our partners have the capability and the will to respond forcefully to attacks, and that we will not distinguish between attacks from the regime or the proxies it supports.

While deterrence often plays out in Iraq or Syria, the Iranian regime must also understand its borders are no longer sacrosanct. The United States should reach agreement with like-minded partners on appropriate nuclear redlines that would garner an international response. Israel has a clear role to play here, and I’ve welcomed Israel’s participation in joint exercises tailored against Iran.

However, if we’re to achieve true integrated deterrence, the United States must also ensure our partners have the capability and equipment to contain the Iranian threat. The US must expedite arms sales and address critical capability gaps – to include a credible joint US-Israeli military option to take Iran’s nuclear program off the table. 

On the diplomatic front, the death of the nuclear deal and Iran’s rush to enrich uranium provide opportunities for diplomatic incentives and disincentives. Censures of the Iranian regime at International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meetings were a good start. As Iran continues to resist the IAEA’s legitimate oversight functions, the United States should hit the regime with more, stronger censures.

Additionally, Iran must become a renewed topic of discussion at the United Nations Security Council – to include invoking snapback of sanctions under UNSCR 2231. While I do not support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), this snapback provision allows any original JCPOA signatory to “snap back” all prior resolutions on Iran by notifying the Security Council that Iran is not compliant with its commitments. Again, the United States and its allies must be on the same page as to what constitutes significant nuclear non-compliance and must advertise these red lines to the regime.

Finally, as protests enter their fourth month, the US government must better support the aspirations of the Iranian people. The American response thus far has been embarrassingly muted. The Biden Administration and international community must signal more full-throated support for the Iranian people who are dying on the streets as they march for freedom. Additionally, we must increase efforts to allow ordinary Iranians to access each other, the internet, and the outside world. These efforts must be paired with effective sanctions against Iranian censors and those who enable the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, and expand sanctions of human rights abusers.

Many of us in Washington have long advocated for a holistic approach to Iran that is more than a nuclear negotiation. It’s time to put the nuclear deal out of its misery and focus on the way ahead. I look forward to advancing these efforts in the next Congress.

*US Senator Jim Risch is a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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