The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Kitten

With a solemn look and steely-eyed determination, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared before the media to announce new U.N. sanctions against Iran. Reuters reports:
"We can, we believe, slow down and certainly interfere with and make much more difficult their continuing nuclear program through these sanctions," Clinton said. "At the same time, we do want them back at the negotiating table.

Are you getting a feeling of déjà vu? Over the past 16 months, the Obama administration has tried and failed to negotiate with Iran. During that same period they have flailed about, trying to convince the “international community” to step up and do something. The result? Charles Krauthammer comments:
In announcing the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran, President Obama stressed not once but twice Iran's increasing "isolation" from the world. This claim is not surprising considering that after 16 months of an "extended hand" policy, in response to which Iran accelerated its nuclear program -- more centrifuges, more enrichment sites, higher enrichment levels -- Iranian "isolation" is about the only achievement to which the administration can even plausibly lay claim.

"Isolation" may have failed to deflect Iran's nuclear ambitions, but it does enjoy incessant repetition by the administration. For example, in his State of the Union address, President Obama declared that "the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated." Two months later, Vice President Biden asserted that "since our administration has come to power, I would point out that Iran is more isolated -- internally, externally -- has fewer friends in the world." At the signing of the START treaty in April, Obama declared that "those nations that refuse to meet their obligations [to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, i.e., Iran] will be isolated."

Really? On Tuesday, one day before the president touted passage of a surpassingly weak U.N. resolution and declared Iran yet more isolated, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran gathered at a security summit in Istanbul "in a display of regional power that appeared to be calculated to test the United States," as the New York Times put it. I would add: And calculated to demonstrate the hollowness of U.S. claims of Iranian isolation, to flaunt Iran's growing ties with Russia and quasi-alliance with Turkey, a NATO member no less.

And the administration continues to grasp at straws, suggesting that Brazil (yep, that’s the same Brazil that until Barack Obama was elected was a staunch U.S. ally instead of an impediment) and Turkey (yep, that’s the same Turkey with a newly installed Islamist leadership with regional ambitions of its own) would be there to help. Help? Is standing four square with Iran’s Mahmoud Amadinejad help? In the through-the-looking-glass world of Barack Obama, I suppose it is.

But our President persists in attempting to craft a negotiated settlement. Walter Russell Mead comments:
Those who think we can reach a ‘grand bargain’ with Iran that would either stop the nuclear program or enable us to coexist peacefully with a nuclear Iran are, I fear, making the same failure that the 1930s and 1940s peace campaigners made about the Nazi and Soviet regimes. They are confusing the legitimacy of the grievances that helped the Iranian regime seize power with the aims of the regime once in place. This regime is, I fear, a tiger not a kitten. Concessions and consideration don’t make it more moderate; they tell it that you fear it, tell it that its tactics of pressure and threats work, and encourage it to raise its demands.

Now fortunately the Iranian regime doesn’t command a great power the way the Nazis had Germany and Stalin had the Soviet Union. But Iran’s strategic location gives it a power to harm US interests and the international system far in excess of its power potential by more conventional measurements. (If Iran somehow switched places with Australia, we could and would pay a lot less attention to its goals; location, not intrinsic power, is what makes Iran a big deal.) I don’t think we can ignore this regime and unless it substantially scales back its ambitions I don’t see how we can coexist with it peacefully much longer.

President Obama is going to have a tough time with this one. His current policy of seeking sanctions while gathering international support is less a policy than a way of marking time. There is no clear and obvious way forward, and Iran is doing everything it can (with Hamas, with Turkish and Brazilian diplomacy, with anything else it can gin up) to muddy the waters and throw the US off-track. As President Obama and Secretary Clinton try to make the agonizing decisions that almost inevitably lie ahead, I’m afraid the appeasers will be back. We can neither threaten Iran now nor seek regime change, they will say. It’s all our fault anyway because we outraged Iranian nationalism by our thoughtless acts in the past. If we can simply understand Iran’s legitimate concerns and give it what it rightfully wants then it will calm down. After all, it is only aggressive and hostile because the poor dears feel so threatened.

These arguments have led to millions of deaths and launched world wars in the past. Neither President Obama nor anybody else should listen to them this time unless those who make them show that they are aware of the disastrous results of this counsel in the former times and have prepared detailed and convincing arguments about why this time is different — and why this particular tiger is really a kitten who just needs to be loved.

The real problem, I think, is that with every month that passes, the real kitten (at least in the perception of the “international community”) is the United States under the leadership of Barack Obama. That perception can and will lead to war.