Ilan Berman
Ilan Berman
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America's Iran Policy Pendulum

August 4, 2021  •  Chapter in Iran In-Between Us (Tactics Institute, August 2021)

For the second time in a half-decade, U.S. policy toward Iran is undergoing a profound redefinition, as the Biden administration abandons the "maximum pressure" of the Trump era in favor of a broad effort to reengage the Islamic Republic. Even before he was elected in November 2020, it was clear that, as president, Joe Biden would pursue a substantially more accommodating approach toward Tehran than his predecessor. For instance, in the spring of 2020, at the start of the global coronavirus outbreak, Biden himself argued that the U.S. government needed to ease sanctions pressure on Iran[1] – even though the Iranian regime had by then repeatedly turned down offers of humanitarian assistance from the Trump administration.[2] In much the same vein, top foreign policy advisor (now Secretary of State) Antony Blinken indicated that a Biden White House would be willing to resuscitate the 2015 deal over Iran's nuclear program known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – including, presumably, reactivating the massive sanctions relief that accompanied the original agreement.[3] Meanwhile, the broad contours of this reengagement was being defined by aligned experts and think tanks, such as the left-leaning Center for a New American Security, which in August of 2020 published what was effectively a blueprint for future talks with Iran.[4] In turn, once it took office in January 2021, reengagement with Iran became a top priority of the Biden administration's foreign policy. Almost immediately, Administration principals (including Secretary of State Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and State Department Special Envoy Rob Malley) embarked upon extensive outreach toward the Iranian government designed to cajole the country's clerical regime into reentering the 2015 nuclear deal and returning to the diplomatic table. As of this writing, that effort has entailed, among other things: renewed proximity talks between Washington and Tehran, a rollback of key sanctions deemed not to be consistent with the spirit of the 2015 nuclear deal, and a relaxation of American enforcement of those punitive economic measures still in place. Administration officials have waxed optimistic that such steps will, over time, pave the way for a "longer and stronger" deal with Tehran.[5] Yet it is also an effort that is fraught with peril. The Biden administration's Iran policy risks undoing the significant leverage that the United States has accumulated vis-à-vis the Iranian regime over the past two years as a result of "maximum pressure." It likewise risks missing a crucial opening within Iran itself, where an increasingly disaffected populace is coalescing around an anti-regime consensus that offers a tantalizing glimpse at a post-theocratic future for one of America's most vexing strategic adversaries.

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If The Afghan Government Falls To The Taliban, The Country Could Once Again Become A Haven For Terrorists

July 13, 2021  •  The Daily Caller

History, they say, doesn't really repeat itself, but it does sometimes rhyme. That's an apt description for the Biden administration's policy toward Afghanistan, which risks recreating the very conditions that made possible the September 11 attacks against America two decades ago. In one sense, the current U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is quite predictable. Twenty years after the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, popular support for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has fallen off dramatically. Afghanistan is now seen as a "forever war" – a conflict with unclear objectives which continues to cost the U.S. dearly in both blood and treasure. The numbers tell the story. In an April MorningConsult poll, some 69% of respondents backed the administration's decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan by the twentieth anniversary of September 11. Such stark figures are why, during its time in office, the Trump administration sought to strike a truce with the Taliban as a precursor to withdrawing forces from the country. And it is also the reason that the Biden administration, for all its public opposition to the priorities of its predecessor, has followed the same policy – although on a slightly longer timeline. Yet if the withdrawal makes sound political sense, its practical effects are likely to be ruinous.

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Why Has China Turned On Israel?

July 5, 2021  •  Jerusalem Post

Amid the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, a surprising voice led the charge against the Jewish state. While Israel's defensive military response to thousands of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip generated a predictable outcry from Europe and some on the American Left, it was China that emerged as one of the country's most strident critics. Beijing did not hesitate to point the finger at Jerusalem, going so far as to cosponsor the UN Human Rights Council decision to establish a commission to investigate Israeli "violations in the occupied Palestinian territory." It was China that pushed the UN Security Council to hold three emergency sessions within a week, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi who described the conflict as Israeli "hostilities," excoriated Israel and demanded immediate "restraint." In the same speech, Wang attacked the US for "standing on the opposite side of international justice" because it stood by Israel. Beijing's Arabic-language outlets and social media accounts were flooded with criticism of Israel and the US, while Chinese diplomats shared antisemitic posts on Twitter, and its official CGTV channel reported that "Jews dominate [US] finance, media and Internet sectors."

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A Coronation In Tehran

June 23, 2021  •  Al-Hurra Digital

Last week, Iranians went to the polls to select a replacement for outgoing president Hassan Rouhani, who has served out his two terms in office. The runaway victor of the June 18th contest was judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi, who is estimated to have garnered more than 60 percent of the 28.6 million ballots cast. Raisi's selection was hardly a surprise. It had been clear for some time that the controversial 60-year-old conservative cleric – who has been implicated in the death of nearly 10,000 political prisoners in the late 1980s – was Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's choice to replace Rouhani, and that the Islamic Republic was working overtime to stack the political deck in his favor. As in past electoral cycles, that tinkering included significant manipulation of the vote by the country's clerical institutions. In the run-up to the election, nearly 600 hopefuls had filed papers to formally run for the Iranian presidency. However, all but seven were disqualified by the Guardian Council, the Islamic Republic's constitutional vetting body, as not being sufficiently ideologically compatible with the regime's revolutionary tenets. In addition to Raisi, approved candidates included Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezaei; Saeed Jalili, a former regime nuclear negotiator; Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, the deputy speaker of the majles, Iran's parliament; former vice president Mohsen Mehralizadeh; Central Bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati; and former parliamentarian Alireza Zakani. By election day, however, three of those had dropped out of the race, making Raisi's election a virtual certainty even before Iranians cast their ballots.

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What Biden And Putin Didn't Discuss

June 21, 2021  •  The Hill

At his summit with Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland last week, President Biden pressed his Russian counterpart on a number of critical issues. He stressed the importance of protecting U.S. infrastructure from Russian cyberattacks — and signaled that the White House was prepared to take retaliatory measures in response to continued Russian cyber-mischief. He emphasized his support for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the U.S. broadcaster whose continued functioning and independence within Russia is now being threatened by the Kremlin. And he warned of "devastating consequences" for Russia if opposition critic Alexei Navalny, now languishing in a penal colony on questionable charges, ends up perishing behind bars. One thing that didn't make it onto the meeting agenda, however, was the question of disinformation — and Russia's ongoing efforts to promote "fake news" and divisive narratives within the United States. Yet that topic is a critical one, because recent years have seen the Kremlin erect a massive disinformation campaign aimed at the U.S. and other Western nations.

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Books by Ilan Berman

Cover of Iran's Deadly Ambition Cover of Implosion Cover of Winning the Long War Cover of Tehran Rising

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