May 20, 2008
The Obama-Ahmedinejad SummitBy Ed Lasky
Barack Obama has enshrined the principle of unconditional summitry with Iran as one of the central foreign policy planks of his campaign for President. This despite recent efforts by Obama surrogates to confuse the electorate.
The statement above is found on the campaign website of Senator Obama and reflects his view -- repeated a number of times by himself in debates and question and answer sessions -- that the thrust of his foreign policy will be personal Presidential engagement with tyrannical regimes across the globe, including Hugo Chavez in Venezuela or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. But the focus clearly will be on Iran as the campaign moves along. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terror and is developing the means to construct nuclear weapons.
What would be the consequences of such a Presidential meeting between President Obama and President Ahmadinejad?
Michael Gerson has written eloquently about the moral stain that will color the mere act of meeting with a Holocaust denier who boasts of his yearning to repeat the effort to exterminate the Jews. Obama, a man who on the campaign trail has declared that "nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti-Semitism than I have," will be extending the honor of a Presidential meeting to the most dangerous anti-Semite of all.
For what benefit? As Gerson wrote,
There will inevitably be pressure to offer concessions to Ahmadinejad to help ensure a successful summit. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, who will bear the burden? Who will pay the price?
Ahmadinejad has been crystal clear about his goals. He is fanatic towards Jews and toward Israel -- a type of obsession the world has witnessed before. Israel will certainly be on the agenda of any presidential meeting.* Obama would meet and perhaps even shake hands with a man who has repeatedly condemned Israel, has called it "filthy bacteria" and will hear the ritual denunciations of Israel. Perhaps, he has become inured to such bombast. He has heard it all before.
When a summit meeting occurs, there is considerable pressure to "accomplish" something, to come to an agreement. What exactly would a President Obama be willing to give to Iran in order to get back something that could be touted as an achievement of his summitry?
The boost a summit (even one that led to no agreements) would give to the image of Ahmadinejad would embolden him within Iran (he faces internal pressures that directly blame him for Iran's diplomatic problems) and without. Furthermore, reformers throughout the region will be demoralized and our relations with Sunni nations,including Saudi Arabia, will be damaged as these Sunni regimes also seek to accommodate Iran.
More significant will be the impact on the one group in the region that has warm feelings toward America: the Iranian people themselves. There is a huge Baby Boom generation that is restive and angry towards the regime. As a consequence of pro-natalist policies formulated in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War, there was a surge in births in Iran. Two-thirds of Iranians are now estimated to be under the age of 30; and, significantly, only 40 percent of them are ethnically Persian. They resent the regime.
Iranians are also heirs to a culture that was historically very cosmopolitan and proud of its sophistication and openness to the outside world. Already many Iranians complain of Ahmadinejad's policies that have led to global isolation In a poll taken by the regime itself, one half (and this is probably understated because the regime was running the poll) affirmed that Washington's attitude towards Iran are "to some extent" correct. As much as they abhor the regime, they also have the most positive feelings towards America of any population in the region.
There is an old Middle Eastern aphorism: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. If Obama meets with Ahmadinejad, it will be a sign to Iranians that the world is willing to accept and to respect their regime. The reservoir of goodwill -- the hope for the future as this bulge of youth moves forward -- will be drained. They will feel the sting of defeat -- a betrayal they can lay at the feet of President Obama and America.
But what will be the reaction of the rest of the world? The consequences have already been presaged by the world's reaction to the release of the deeply flawed National Intelligence Estimate late last year. When the NIE was released, it infamously stated, "in the fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program". The report was immediately criticized across the political spectrum in America and by foreign leaders among our allies in Europe. Notably, Barack Obama endorsed the conclusions of the NIE and has continued to do so despite its revision a few months later. Paul Mirengoff of Powerline noted the irony of his accepting the validity of the earlier intelligence findings because they conform to his political plans and rejecting later revisions because they would challenge his views and plans. .
Nevertheless, the mere release of the report, with its imprimatur of government approval, had a disastrous effect on efforts to restrain Iran.
Over the last few years America, working with our allies and with the United Nations, assiduously (if all too slowly) has worked to impose a sanctions regime against Iran. While the breadth and strength of the sanctions have not been what many would have wanted -- and their enforcement has been spotty -- the release of the NIE all but squashed any efforts to move forward with a tougher set of sanctions. Nations rushed with an unseemly alacrity to reach deals with Iran. Russia resumed nuclear cooperation on the Busher nuclear reactor in Iran. China stepped up its opposition to further sanctions. And European nations slid back toward apathy to Iran's threat. The sanctions regime had lost its rationale and has all but collapsed.
The conclusions of the report have been all but repudiated and certainly have been superseded by Iran's success in enriching uranium and developing ballistic missiles. Yet all forward momentum toward further sanctions against Iran has halted. The NIE gave all parties who opposed the sanctions -- business interests, Russian oligarchs in charge of their nuclear export program, Chinese leaders eager to extend their influence -- a reason to oppose further efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program.
But the world's powers until now have diplomatically isolated the regime. Other world leaders have refrained from meeting with a leader who has continually issued a string of odious statements such as "Israel will be wiped off the map" and "Israel is a stinking corpse" and who denies the Holocaust.
A meeting between President Obama and President Ahmadinejad would trigger a parade of other foreign leaders to Tehran. They are merely waiting for a pretext, an excuse, that would absolve them from the shame of meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Our strongest allies in Europe, Angela Merkel in Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy in France, Gordon Brown in England, face internal pressures to engage in Iran from commercial interests and political and diplomatic figures within their nations. Until now they have courageously resisted this pressure. No leader wants to bear the burden, the odium, the shame, of being the first Western leader to grant respectability to Ahmadinejad. Diplomatic pressure from America has provided them with another reason to deny such a bestowal of prestige upon Ahmadinejad. President Obama would radically change these policies.
When other high profile political leaders will come a calling, they may not bear the bowler of Neville Chamberlain, but they will bring hats in hand, newly ready and able to strengthen diplomatic (and hence all) ties to the mullahcracy. Under the cover of diplomatic outreach, sanction-busting deals will naturally follow. European nations are eager for energy deals that will provide the wherewithal for Iran to step up its nuclear weapons program.
Indeed, just this past week, OMV, an Austrian energy company with a multibillion dollar deal with the tyrants of Tehran, gave us a glimpse into the future. The chief executive officer of the company has openly declared that a political change in America -- one that he apparently believes in and hopes for -- will make it far easier to transact deals with Iran. Most assuredly he is not referring to John McCain.
If President Obama believes in the value of such meetings, perhaps he will be bold enough to meet with Iranian dissidents and reformers, to use the prestige of his office and that of America (remember Iranians admire America) to help them and not their oppressors. President Reagan -- whom Barack Obama professes to admire -- offered such support to Soviet dissidents.
So far, Barack Obama has not shown any signs that he is willing to do so.
* This meeting will be good preparation for the Muslim nations summit that Barack Obama has called for convening when he becomes President so he can hear their "grievances". Israel will be on that menu, too.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.