We already knew that President-elect Joe Biden is resolved to re-enter the lousy nuclear deal his former boss, President Barack Obama, struck with Iran. But by choosing someone who has negotiated not one, but two nuclear disasters, Biden is setting up the nation for a rerun of past failures, as well as worsening relations with key Mideast allies.
Normally, a new administration’s pick for deputy secretary of state doesn’t get much attention. But Biden’s decisions to tap Wendy Sherman for the post and to give her the task of reviving the Iran deal indicate that he lacks a leader’s humility to learn from the achievements of his reviled predecessor.
If repeating the same action again and again and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity, then Biden’s choice of Sherman is one of the most insane nominations for office in American history.
Sherman is a living, breathing example of how overrated diplomatic experience can be. A veteran of both the Clinton and Obama State Departments, she can claim credit for two of the worst national-security negotiations ever conducted by a US envoy.
Under President Bill Clinton, Sherman was the architect of a series of deals with North Korea meant to freeze and dismantle the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear program, as well as limit its illegal missile production. In exchange, Sherman offered generous concessions to the monstrous totalitarian regime — concessions Pyongyang pocketed without either denuclearizing or disarming.
But that abject and failed act of appeasement didn’t deter Obama from hiring her to negotiate a nuclear deal with the Tehran regime. Sherman, along with John Kerry, was taken to the cleaners by her Iranian counterparts. The pair gave in on every Western demand in the talks, including reneging on Obama’s promise to end Iran’s nuclear program.
Worse, she agreed to a sunset date on the agreement. That means that by 2030, all its restrictions will expire, and the ayatollahs will then be legally entitled to break out to a weapon. She also ignored their status as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and illegal missile building in the pact.
All new presidents want to change everything their immediate predecessor did, and that goes triple when it comes to Biden and President Trump. No wonder Biden’s foreign-policy lineup is a Team Obama reunion with Sherman very much invited to party along, notwithstanding what is objectively an awful record.
Yes, everything Trump-related is in bad odor in the wake of his disgraceful post-election behavior and the Capitol riot he helped set in motion. But that’s no excuse for failing to recognize that he is bequeathing a better Mideast to Biden than the 45th president received.
Setting aside the laughter that Sherman’s designation must have caused among Iran’s tyrants, the sunset clauses she agreed to meant that a renegotiation of the deal became a necessity. Trump understood this, and his “maximum-pressure” policy managed to put the screws to the Iranian economy. And he did so despite the fact that Obama had warned that the only alternative to appeasement was war.
Acting on Kerry’s advice, the Iranians waited for a Democrat to defeat Trump, and now, with their old pal Sherman ready to go to work, they can be forgiven for thinking that the obstacles Trump put in their path to a nuclear weapon will soon be lifted.
We can only hope that Biden will nonetheless try to disappoint them. That’s why he should put the brakes on re-entering the deal. Rather than restore the pre-Trump status quo ante, he needs to concentrate on starting new talks that will scrap the sunset clauses and include an end to Iran’s support of terrorists and its regional aggression.
Just as important, Biden should be consulting rather than excluding Israel and the Arab states — as Obama did — as he plans his Iran strategy. If Biden is serious about healing wounds and bettering relations with American allies, he can start by not empowering and enriching Tehran: Rejoining the deal with no strings attached would do just that. But given his decision to hand the job of dealing with this terrible problem to the woman who helped create it, it’s difficult to be optimistic about his prospects.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org.