Sam Vinograd 0101
Vinograd: Trump sabotage could undermine national security
01:10 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Samantha Vinograd (@sam_vinograd) is a CNN national security analyst. She is a senior adviser at the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute, which is not affiliated with the Biden campaign. Vinograd served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council from 2009 to 2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

Outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s barrage of tweets on Friday was inaccurate and insensitive. In fact, they were incredibly undiplomatic for our nation’s supposed chief diplomat.

Samantha Vinograd

Pompeo’s claim that “we’re so much safer today than four years ago” as Americans are dying daily by the thousands from Covid-19, while we are under cyberattack, as tensions with Iran are rising – and so much more – is beyond false and tone deaf. For Pompeo to write that his foreign policy approach was defined by humility while tweeting out his supposed greatest accomplishments is cringe-worthy.

As Pompeo tries to manufacture a personal legacy that does not track with reality – perhaps to lay the groundwork for a presidential run in 2024 – his tweets expose a brutal reality confronting President-elect Joe Biden after his January 20 inauguration: American national security has been degraded across the board under President Donald Trump.

America’s ability to project power globally depends in no small part on what’s happening at home. With havoc in the homeland, our adversaries and our allies alike know that we are distracted. The toll of Covid-19, our damaged economy and deep political divisions limit our ability to promote an image of competence abroad.

This reality makes us look vulnerable to exploitation. That’s why one of Biden’s primary challenges will be stabilizing the state of our union as the bedrock of any strategy to enhance US national security over the next four years. While Pompeo tweets about how the United States got its “swagger” back under Trump, the truth is a lot of other countries got more swagger in their step because of how weakened we look. Too many adversaries have had good reason to feel empowered under the Trump administration because Trump has given them a free pass – like in North Korea – or because the Trump administration has been wracked by incompetence - as is the case with Iran.

Trump’s Iran strategy – or lack thereof – has been a failure. That is clearly evidenced by the ratcheting up of tensions between the US and Iran ahead of the January 3 anniversary of the US assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last year.

The days leading up to the anniversary of Soleimani’s assassination were particularly tense: the US flew B-52 bombers to the Middle East in a show of force and defense officials told CNN new intelligence showed Iran has been moving short range ballistic missiles into Iraq possibly in advance of an attack on US personnel or assets. This macabre assassination anniversary – and its concomitant risk factors – just highlight how badly Trump’s Iran strategy has performed. While assassinating Soleimani removed one bad actor from the field, his assassination did not stem Iran’s support for terrorism nor its attacks against the US and its allies.

Trump took a go-big-or-go-home approach with Iran and it didn’t work – probably because it was unrealistic and ill-conceived. After the President withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPOA) nuclear deal in 2018, Pompeo laid out 12 demands Iran would have to meet in areas unrelated to the nuclear program before the US would return to the negotiating table. To pressure Iran to meet those demands, the Trump administration also increased sanctions. It’s clear that approach just didn’t work – Iran did not meet those demands and negotiations didn’t resume. Instead the threats from Iran worsened.

Iran’s nuclear capabilities have increased under Trump and the country has reportedly decreased its breakout time to a bomb – a threat that reappeared because of Trump’s irresponsible decision to withdraw from the Iran deal. Iran has blown through the deal’s nuclear safeguards, and Iran recently said that it would increase uranium enrichment to 20%, which is well above the 3.67% enrichment ceiling in the nuclear deal. Without a viable negotiating track, the situation has become more volatile as reported covert operations hit an Iranian nuclear facility. along with other targets, last July and an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated in November.

Conventional attacks also have not abated. Iranian-backed proxies in Iraq are believed to be behind a 2019 rocket attack that killed an American contractor and an attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad last month. Earlier in December, the State Department reportedly drew down personnel at the embassy as part of a “de-risking” ahead of the anniversary of Soleimani’s assassination and potential Iranian attacks. While the impact of US sanctions and Covid-19 have affected Iran’s funding for proxies, these groups have been at work across the region – on land and at sea.

Iran has increased its aggression in cyberspace too. Officials said that Iran was using “online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content” to spread divisions in the US ahead of the November election. The director of National Intelligence says Iran stole voter registration data and targeted Democratic voters with threatening emails. Last month, the FBI said Iran put together an online “Enemies List” of US officials involved in election certification and targeted voting machine companies as part of an online campaign.

Clearly, Trump’s failed Iran policy has raised tensions across the board. But Trump’s incompetence does not give Iran a free pass – the regime engages in dangerous malign activity that President-elect Biden will have to consider as he assumes office.

When it comes to foreign policy, Biden is not driven by political talking points or promises. The incoming president. doesn’t need a bogeyman like Trump does. Instead, Biden can be expected to develop an Iran strategy based on the actual intelligence he gets from security officials – not the kind you get on Fox News – to try to neutralize the threat Iran poses, starting with their renewed nuclear program.

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    Getting Iran back into compliance with the JCPOA will not magically get Tehran to behave like a responsible, international law-abiding actor. But it will remove one of the burgeoning threats posed by the regime so that the Biden administration – working in close concert with US allies – can dial down the temperature in a region that has become more dangerous during the Trump years.