Tuesday, October 13, 2020


For the better part of a year, Americans have narrowed their focus to the immediate task of saving themselves from the scourge of the deadly coronavirus. The threat of disease is still potent, but the approach of a quadrennial presidential election necessitates a wider scope of awareness. From afar, an angry Iran continues to glare westward. As millions of U.S. voters sit with pen in hand to fill out their mail-in ballots, they should ponder whether they could be also signing off on a renewed Iranian quest for nuclear arms.

Donald Trump has staked the nation’s security on a pledge to never allow the Islamic Republic to possess the world’s most destructive weaponry. He reiterated the vow during a Sept. 16 White House briefing: “There is no way we will let Iran have a nuclear weapon.” The promise is contingent upon his continued presidency, which is no certainty as Mr. Trump’s Election Day showdown with Joe Biden draws near.

The president withdrew from the Obama-era Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018 for reasons as plain as they were prudent: Sending a dangerous adversary cash by the planeload, followed by $150 billion in sanctions relief in return for an flimsy agreement, was hardly the sort of next-level statesmanship that vaulted America to the status of world superpower. Paying a terror-wielding regime to pause its atomic ambitions had more the look of a shop owner ponying up protection money to prevent an “accident” from burning down his establishment. New York businessmen like Mr. Trump have surely seen that movie before.

Mr. Biden, in contrast, seems to have missed the show. In a Sept. 13 opinion piece for CNN online, the Democratic challenger laid out his Iran intentions: “I will make an unshakable commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” A promise to make a promise doesn’t compare to one already made. If words were walls, most Americans would feel safer behind Mr. Trump’s vow than Mr. Biden’s.

And if Americans place him in the White House, Mr. Biden says he will “offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy.” A deal do-over may ratchet down immediate tension but escalate the risk of an eventual Iranian bomb.

Since U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear accord, Iran has demonstrated its chagrin by, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, producing 10 times its agreed allotment of enriched uranium. The combined effect of sanctions and COVID-19, though, has triggered a multi-year decline in Iran’s gross domestic product, causing unrest among citizens preferring butter over guns. Only empty pockets, then, may put nukes out of the mullahs’ reach.

The choice for American voters is whether they would feel safer with a different president who intends to dial down economic pressure on a rogue state while talking up a new nuclear deal, or not.

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