from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Biden Politicizes Iran Policy

May 8, 2012

Blog Post

"When we took office, let me remind you, there was virtually no international pressure on Iran," Biden said. "We were the problem. We were diplomatically isolated in the world, in the region, in Europe."

Thus the Vice President of the United States explaining international politics. As I think back to the relationships between President Bush and, to take a few examples, Japanese prime minister Koizumi, Australian prime minister Howard, German chancellor Merkel, British prime minister Blair, King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah II of Jordan, in every case closer than the relationships established with them or their successors by President Obama...well, if we were isolated it was hard to see it.  The "we were the problem" trope is also somewhat undermined by data showing that American popularity in the Arab world is now lower than it was when President Bush left office, a fact that somehow the talkative VP managed to overlook.

Then there are the inconvenient UN Security Council resolutions--inconvenient for the Biden narrative. Resolution 1696 was passed unanimously (except for Qatar) in July 2006, and demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. Resolution 1737 was adopted unanimously in December 2006, banned the supply of nuclear-related materials to Iran, and froze the assets of certain individuals and companies related to Iran’s nuclear program. Resolution 1747 was adopted unanimously in March 2007 and again tightened sanctions on arms sales and supply to Iran and on Iranian banks, and targeted Iran’s missile program as well. Resolution 1803 was adopted in March 2008 with only Indonesia abstaining, and imposed an arms embargo on Iran and froze additional Iranian assets. It asked states to watch Bank Melli and Bank Saderat in particular.

It’s worth mentioning these resolutions now only because they make it clear that the United States had already achieved a substantial international consensus, and P5+1 unity, against Iran before Mr. Biden left the Senate to ascend to his august post. He seems to be ignorant of these facts or he could not say something as foolish as "we were the problem" and "we were diplomatically isolated." Policy toward Iran ought to be bipartisan and largely has been until now, and fair credit has been given to the Obama administration for working to get new UN resolutions that tighten the sanctions a good deal. Mr. Biden’s effort to rewrite the history is unworthy, if unsurprising. He owes an apology to the many American officials who worked long and hard, and successfully, to construct the international consensus on which more recent officials have built. History did not start on January 20, 2009.

UPDATE: My former NSC colleague Will Tobey has added the following facts:

In January 2009 Iran was enriching uranium with about 4,000 centrifuges; now it has more than 8,000 in operation. Enriched uranium stocks are up five fold in the same period. Two years ago Iran began enrichment to 20 percent. Whatever the VP might think about administration policy, it’s not slowing Iran.

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