Despite being the most powerful nation in the world, the last U.S. election exposed the fragility of American democracy. It highlighted the need to continually work toward improving and fostering our democratic institutions.
While the ethos of U.S. militarism in recent decades emphasized the dangers of foreign foes, the Trump presidency and its unprecedented attacks on the most basic principles of American democracy substantiated President Abraham Lincoln's claim that true danger to the U.S. would come from within: "It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher."
In order to nurture democracy, President Joe Biden should abide by its core belief to carry out the will of the people. His administration's openness to diplomacy with Iran reflects that very will.
In the case of U.S. foreign policy, the American public made its position clear. Poll after poll indicate that the majority of Americans wish to end endless wars and ensure national and global security through diplomacy. The news that the U.S. and Iran agreed to indirect talks to discuss returning to the nuclear deal is a step in that direction and demonstrates welcome progress toward peace. As President Biden talks of unity, the desire to avoid military confrontation with Iran and resolve the nuclear issue with diplomacy has bipartisan support.
A recent The Economist/YouGov poll showed that a majority of Americans view Iran's nuclear program as a threat, with 63 percent supporting direct negotiations with Iran to address their concern. Upon a closer look, 84 percent of Biden voters polled supported direct negotiations, along with 54 percent of Trump voters.
These numbers corroborate CNN polling from May 2018, after former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal—also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—which showed 63 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should not quit the deal. That Trump's "maximum pressure" policy on Iran was a complete failure, which brought us to the brink of war, only reaffirmed the need to return to diplomacy. As such, during his campaign, Biden remained a staunch critic of Trump's Iran policy and signaled his support for returning to the deal, along with almost every other Democratic candidate.
Though Biden and key figures within his administration were outspoken in their rebuke of Trump's Iran policy, the administration was initially slow to take real steps toward returning to the deal. Polling of Americans under the Biden administration continues to demonstrate that the majority support a return to mutual compliance by the United States and Iran.
From a global perspective, American allies in Europe worked to save the deal in spite of efforts by the Trump administration to completely dismantle it. They pressed the Biden administration early on to take proactive steps toward sanctions relief to restore the agreement as soon as possible. While Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu's infamous anti-Iran posturing is often presented as being representative of all Israeli society, senior ranking Israeli defense and security officials came out in favor of Biden returning to the JCPOA and acknowledged its effectiveness.
Domestically, pressure is growing among Biden supporters, including progressive and faith-based groups, for him to rejoin the nuclear deal. Many of these supporters expected faster action from the new administration and fear that the window for diplomacy may be narrow with an Iranian election on the horizon in June. The current Rouhani government, which staked its administration on the success of the JCPOA and the hoped-for economic relief for millions of Iranians, repeatedly stated that Iran will swiftly return to compliance if the U.S. does the same.
In addition to appeals from Biden supporters to return to the deal, there is also the pressing matter of sanctions relief due to the COVID pandemic. This has drawn criticism from U.S. civil society organizations who called on Biden to provide sanctions relief. Although the Biden administration expressed intent to review sanctions for the purposes of humanitarian assistance in the pandemic just days after taking office, more than two months later no such relief has been given as all Trump-era sanctions on Iran remain in place. Biden's unhurried approach to COVID sanctions relief is in stark contrast to his own words last year, which called on Trump to "take immediate steps to address this problem and streamline channels for banking and public health assistance from other countries in response to the health emergency in Iran."
In the same statement, Biden alluded to the unique role of the U.S. in world affairs and asserted that, "In times of global crisis, America should lead."
If the U.S. is to take on such leadership while preserving its own democracy, President Biden should heed the calls of the majority of Americans and the people who voted him into office. His own desire to return to diplomacy was signaled again with the U.S. decision to join indirect talks with Iran along with international intermediaries, but this decision will be met with opposition from the same people and groups that sabotaged the diplomatic gains of the Obama-Biden administration.
War hawks and fringe groups determined for regime change in Iran at any cost should not be the arbiters of America's Iran policy. Instead, our policies on Iran should reflect the will of the American people, who have shown time and again their desire for diplomacy over war. If democracy should prevail, Biden will soon return to the Iran nuclear deal. The president should feel confident in doing so because it's what Americans want.
Assal Rad is a senior research fellow at the National Iranian American Council. She received her PhD in history at the University of California, Irvine. Follow her on Twitter @assalrad.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.