Holding International Security Hostage to the Election Calendar
Listen to our president. On May 18, 2009, Obama said about his demand that Iran not develop nuclear weapons: "I don't want to set an artificial deadline. We should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction [emphasis supplied]."
As that year wound down, Obama said on October 1, 2009: "Iran must grant unfettered access to IAEA inspectors within two weeks...we're not interested in talking for the sake of talking. If Iran does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations, then the United States will not continue to negotiate indefinitely [emphasis supplied]."
Last week, Obama did exactly what he promised not to do in 2009: he agreed to re-enter the infinite bazaar of open-ended negotiations with Tehran. It has not been a good fortnight for Obama's credibility (unless you read only adoring liberal media). Obama tried to sound determined, leaking tough words to a hagiographer for the Atlantic: "I don't bluff." Obama delivered a slick speech at AIPAC, asserting determination to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb and promising that "I have Israel's back." This promise was watered down two days later when Obama told his press conference it meant only that Israel is a friendly country like Japan and Britain.
When Obama's words and actions are analyzed, several chilling truths emerge:
1. Obama's pressure is focused not on Iran, but on bulldozing Israel into not preemptively attacking Iran while he is doing what he does best -- i.e., campaigning. An unnamed administration official unashamedly confessed to the Washington Post: "We're trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel."
2. Obama says he will prevent Iran "from acquiring a nuclear weapon." Israel has a qualitatively different red line. Israel seeks to prevent Tehran from developing capability to make nuclear bombs. No rational person can contest the correctness of Israel's concern that Iran is likely to use those weapons to implement its promise to "annihilate" the Jewish state. The murderousness of the mullahs need not be described at length -- e.g., Iran executes 500 of its own citizens annually, continues to supply weapons to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan as it did in Iraq, the Iranians were caught red-handed plotting to blow up a restaurant in our nation's capital in order to kill the Saudi ambassador, Iran recently mounted bomb attacks on Israeli diplomats in several overseas capitals (if you want more examples, contact me).
Obama reiterates hope of a "diplomatic solution" -- i.e., that Iran will surrender its nuclear weapons program. Iranian conduct suggests that this is a presidential delusion, not a hope any rational person can believe in. Under pressure from Congress, particularly Senators Kirk (R-Illinois) and Menendez (D-N.J.), Obama slowly but incrementally ratcheted up sanctions against Iran. Obama knows that sanctions will not stop Iran. His director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told the Senate Intelligence committee last month: "The sanctions as imposed so far have-not caused Iran to change their policy." Continuing to believe that sanctions will work meets Einstein's definition of insanity -- i.e., repeating the same effort although it hasn't worked.
Obama and Iran Synchronize
The stunning development last week was that Iran and Obama found a way to synchronize their interests. Agreement was announced to relaunch talks between Iran and five permanent Security Council members (plus Germany). This agreement serves Iran's interests because it allows Tehran additional time to continue nuclear development. It serves Obama because he is praying that the talks will drag on until after Election Day. The Western powers behaved amateurishly (I assume China and Russia knew what they were doing -- i.e., helping Iran stall) when they failed to insist (1) that a time limit be set for the duration of the talks; (2) the consequences for Iran if negotiations fail; and (3) that Iran suspend uranium enrichment during the talks. The Iranians hinted that that they might allow previously blocked inspection of their massive base at Parchin. The IAEA said Iran was energetically erasing evidence of development of nuclear trigger at Parchin. We are now faced with months of stalling over venue of the talks, duration, modalities of inspection, and other issues which Iran, abetted by Russia and China, will contrive.
Some of the liberal elite understand the reciprocal deceit. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and ex-government official and N.Y. Times editor, wrote: "Tehran and Washington have discovered a surprising common bond: to pretend that they might be heading toward serious negotiations to curb Iran's nuclear capacity ... Tehran's and Washington's subtle maneuvering to buy time is less a strategy than a prayer."
Obama seemed to promise at AIPAC and in the Atlantic interview that he would use military force to prevent Iran from "acquiring" a nuclear weapon. If this was a promise, it has not been responsibly analyzed. Obama's consistent view of international legitimacy is that force cannot be used unless the U.N. agrees. Defense Secretary Panetta confirmed this last week in telling the Senate Armed Services committee that the U.S. could not intervene to stop mass murder in Syria without "international permission." Can anyone imagine Obama's attacking Iran without Security Council approval (which is most unlikely even in extreme circumstances)? Thus Obama's promises about action against Iran ring hollow.
Timely Military Force and Alternatives
I am not advocating immediate military action against Iran by Israel or the United States. I soberly understand the foreseeable and unforeseen consequences of war. But I also foresee the intolerable consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran. It is likewise intolerable that timely defense of the free world be held hostage to the U.S. election calendar. All available evidence shows that only a credible threat of timely military force has the possibility of deterring Iran. An Israeli attack is likely only to delay Iran.
There are alternatives short of attacking Iran. The U.S. under President Clinton had a very smart CIA director -- i.e., Jim Woolsey, now chair of the formidable Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Woolsey, speaking in January at the Herzliya Conference, said that Ahmadinejad, like Hitler, has a two-part plan: kill the Jews and take over the region. Woolsey suggested sending five carrier battle groups to the Indian Ocean, possibly accompanied by bomber support, to signal readiness to destroy "everything related to the Revolutionary Guards." Woolsey pointed out that such air operations worked twice in the 1990s on behalf of Muslims when the U.S. bombed Serbia and Kosovo. "We didn't lose a single aircraft or pilot, and now in Kosovo there is a Bill Clinton Avenue and statue." Another alternative is to terminate Iran's ability to project its power through Syria by hastening regime change in Damascus. Reviving the moribund U.N. Hariri assassination tribunal could be a step in this direction.
I don't suggest that Woolsey's suggestions, or mine, are the last words. But they are a far sight better than ramping up the pressure on Israel rather than Iran and re-entering the swamp of interminable negotiations with Tehran. Surely, the United States can do more than continue the failed sanctions regime, even in an election year.