Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


The Funding of Iran: What Has the U.S. Received in Return?

It is often said that politics makes strange bedfellows.

These words describe the reality that nation-states with strikingly different values and systems of governance can find themselves allied in pursuit of common goals based upon respective national interests.

This understanding has historically prompted America to align with states with which it bears few similarities. In terms of military conflict, the United States partnered with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union in the Second World War and supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Concerning peacetime alliances, Washington reestablished relations with China in 1972 as a counterbalance to the USSR and sought to shore up ties with Saudi Arabia following the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

While such cooperative efforts have not come without cost, they continue to be pursued due to the greater overall benefits that they provide to America’s economy and national security. It is a question of realpolitik, a practice in which policy is created and executed based on practical and calculable considerations rather than ethical premises. The historical precedent for such practice is clear.

An unprecedented (and dangerous) step in American foreign policy, however, would be the pursuit of détente with countries that not only threaten the security of the United States and its allies but do not provide any conceivable strategic advantage to these same polities. Despite the profundity of such foolishness, this is precisely the course of action that U.S. President Joe Biden continues to pursue through his strengthening of Iran by means of the following actions:

Due to the Biden administration’s easing of sanctions, Iran has generated approximately $80 billion from illicit oil sales since 2021 (a large portion of which has been made through China), with exports reaching a five-year high in 2023. Tehran currently produces approximately 3 million barrels of oil daily, a sharp contrast to the historic low of less than 500,000 it was averaging under President Donald Trump in 2019.

The White House has continually refused to enforce Trump-era sanctions on Iran’s steel industry, resulting in an additional $9.9 billion in revenue for Tehran under Biden.

In August 2021, the International Monetary Fund approved $650 billion in special drawing rights, $4.5 billion of which went to Iran. Biden had the authority to stop the transfer but chose not to do so.

The White House unfroze $6 billion in Iranian assets in September 2023, providing Tehran access to accumulated oil revenue withheld under the Trump administration.

The Biden administration extended a sanctions waiver in November 2023 that allows Iran to access upwards of $10 billion in electricity revenue once held in escrow by Iraq while allowing Baghdad to continue purchasing electricity from Tehran. This waiver, originally signed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in July of the same year, permits Iraq to deposit payments into non-Iraqi banks in third countries rather than restricted accounts within its own borders.

In sum, the Biden administration has provided Iran with over $100 billion through sanctions relief and unfrozen assets without receiving a single concession in return. Iranian policy remains unchanged and will continue to be detrimental to the United States in three significant ways:

Iran will continue to shore up relations with Russia. Such action does not merely strengthen Iranian aspirations toward regional hegemony but provides Moscow with a means to build economic ties with countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. And, of course, Iran will continue to bolster Russia militarily through the provision of missiles and drones, all of which will further offset American assistance to Ukraine and exacerbate European equilibrium.

Tehran will be better equipped to disrupt efforts toward peace established by the Abraham Accords. Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and now Saudi Arabia realize that relations with Israel will improve their economic interests and work to prevent Iranian suzerainty in the Middle East. Now in possession of more than $100 billion, Iran will be emboldened in its ongoing efforts to destabilize the region.

Attacks on Israel will increase in scale and frequency through increased funding of Hamas and Hezbollah. Rather than doing anything to improve the lives of the people it purports to govern (more dead Palestinian Arabs amount to greater sympathy from the West), Hamas will use the money to acquire more weapons and dig more tunnels in pursuit of its goal to annihilate every Jew it can find. In short, the groundwork will be laid for barbarism even worse than that carried out on October 7th of last year.

In the midst of all of this, the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague is preoccupied with the possibility of issuing arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli government. Rather than holding Iran’s leaders to account, the ICC is actively engaged in blaming the victims of the most vicious crime against the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

And in the face of such evil, Joe Biden remains silent.

In his famous “Farewell Address,” President George Washington warned against creating implacable enemies or international friendships of dubious value. Washington foresaw that a future president might be tempted to become entangled in foreign alliances whose benefits to American interests would be marginal.

What Washington could not foresee was the willingness of a future president to not merely buttress one of America’s greatest enemies while demanding nothing in return, but to do so at the expense of arguably its greatest ally.