The early assessment by the Biden administration that a return to the JCPOA could be taken for granted and that the US did not really need Saudi Arabia as an ally has been disproven by subsequent events. Iran is more aggressive than ever and Ali Khamenei is apparently grooming the arch-extremist president Ebrahim Raisi as his successor as supreme leader. The US assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud (MBS) is ostensibly a psychopath and the diplomatic drive to unseat him have proven to be a diplomatically costly mistake for which the world is paying in the form of exorbitant gasoline prices.
Even though behind the scenes US officials admit that there is no hope for a nuclear agreement with Iran there appears to still be a reluctance to officially declare the process dead. The US has since last fall prepared dual tracks – diplomatic and military – and now US officials appear loath to admit that they were wrong all along in spending US diplomatic capital on the diplomatic track, something which has completely undone US military deterrence vis-a-vis Iran and put the American homeland in severe danger of Iranian apocalyptic biological mass terrorism.
Rather, it is clear that America is now more militarily dependent on Saudi Arabia than ever before in its history. MBS is a pro-American, pro-Western and pro-Israeli leader who is seeking to liberalize his nation and enfranchise its women and anyone who understands the ultra-conservative nature of Saudi Arabian society and the overwhelmingly Islamist sympathies of its public opinion realizes that this – at this point – can only be done with an iron fist. Furthermore, MBS is not the sole power in KSA and is struggling with the still powerful Wahhabi deep state. Keep in mind that the Kingdom still funds Wahhabi mosques abroad. The religious police, although not active, still receive their salaries and sharia law is still the law of the land. In other words, there is a long political road ahead for the young 36-year old MBS. Rather than supporting the pro-American MBS, the Biden administration unwisely endeavored to persuade King Salman to remove MBS from power.
Now the Americans find themselves at the end of the road of what was always a futile endeavor, namely the attempt to return to the JCPOA. What military options does the US have? 1) The US can destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons program from the air. 2) The US can impose a no-fly zone over Iran and provide air support for an armed uprising. If an uprising fails will a permanent no-fly zone permit regular air strikes against the nuclear weapons program to prevent it from ever being rebuilt again. The imposition of a no-fly zone will significantly facilitate the aerial destruction of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. 3) If and when Iran strikes the American homeland with biological weapons will America have no choice but to territorially liberate Iran from its totalitarian oppressors.
Plan B, the military options, all require close coordination with KSA and reconciliation with Riyadh will not be possible until Washington fully abandons the diplomatic track. Early February was supposed to be the deadline for the Vienna talks and now it is early May, three months beyond deadline. There is absolutely no reason to pretend that the Vienna charade can be resuscitated, rather Washington urgently needs to prioritize restoring good relations with Riyadh.