WSJ, Jan. 2, 2022
The biggest challenges the U.S. will face in 2022 won’t be Covid-19 or inflation but Russia and Iran. The way the Biden administration handles these two hostile, despotic governments may determine how secure our country will be for years.
Moscow and Tehran are testing the administration’s foreign policy, which, in its first year, has been more principled than muscular. The mortifying withdrawal from Afghanistan made allies around the world insecure and enemies, including Russia and Iran, opportunistic.
Russia has massed its troops on Ukraine’s border, ready to invade it and subjugate its people. Iran has continued to increase its enrichment of uranium and move closer to building nuclear weapons. It has improved its long-range ballistic missile capacity so it can attack its enemies in the Arab world and Israel as well as American military personnel and bases in the region. The governments of Vladimir Putin and Ali Khamenei have increased the oppression of their citizens, violating the values at the heart of America’s foreign policy.
This month the U.S. will sit down with Russia and Iran, respectively in Geneva and Vienna, for critically important talks about these direct challenges. The messages the U.S. sends—during these discussions and through its actions or failures to act—will have enormous consequences for the security, prosperity and freedom of America, Europe and the Middle East.
Russia and Iran have issued outrageous demands. Russia insists that Ukraine never be admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and that NATO never station troops or equipment in any former Soviet bloc country, even though some are now NATO members.
Iran has demanded that all economic sanctions, whether based on its nuclear treachery, human-rights violations or support of terrorist groups, be lifted even though Tehran has done nothing to merit such capitulation.
Messrs. Putin and Khamenei preside over two hollow economies. They have overseen the degradation of two nations with proud histories and rich cultures. They act like bullies because, they—like most bullies—are insecure, and they both have reasons to be. The U.S. and its allies must bring these realistic views of Russia and Iran to the negotiations so we aren’t intimidated into dangerous compromises merely to reach an agreement.
How should the U.S. approach these discussions? First, by understanding that Russia and Iran need an agreement with us more than we do with them. We should participate with absolute self-confidence.
Second, they shouldn’t be making demands of us. We should be making demands of them, because they are the wrongdoers and our economy and military are much stronger than theirs.
We should begin with the demand that Russia move its troops from Ukraine’s border and that Iran stop its nuclear development program and agree to international inspections. If not, there will be no relief from economic sanctions, which will be increased and expanded, as President Biden threatened last week.
Third, we must give Russia and Iran evidence that we mean what we say by providing defensive and offensive weapons to Ukraine and our allies in the Middle East to protect and defend themselves.
Fourth, we must make clear to the Russians and Iranians that if either makes the egregious mistake of taking more aggressive action against the U.S., Ukraine, the Arabs or Israel, we will respond and deploy military assets to support our friends, including intelligence and air power.
Such strong, clear acts of principled U.S. diplomatic and military leadership can avoid generational defeats in Europe and the Middle East and restore America’s international credibility and trustworthiness. This, in turn, would expand domestic security and prosperity, and that of our allies throughout the world.
A great Roman general said a long time ago, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” That is wise counsel worth following with Russia and Iran in 2022.
Mr. Lieberman was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2000 and a U.S. senator from Connecticut, 1989-2013. He is chairman of United Against Nuclear Iran and of No Labels.
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