Barack Obama in the Carpet Bazaar

For over five years, European powers have been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program.  The result is painfully clear:  Iran is five years closer to possessing nuclear weapons.  This is the context in which debate about negotiations with Iran should be understood. 

The debate was re-ignited by President Bush's observation in his Knesset speech that appeasement of Hitler brought disaster. Sen. Obama, recalling his offer in a debate to negotiate with Iran "without preconditions," complained that he was being branded an appeaser although the President hadn't mentioned him. Obama called Iran and Venezuela "tiny nations" that don't threaten American security.  Really?  Putting  aside the  wisdom  of undermining democratic Colombia by reneging on  free-trade while courting  thuggish Hugo Chavez, consider whether Iran poses a threat to this country.  Iran sits astride routes controlling transport of most of the world's oil, supplies arms killing U.S. troops in Iraq,  employs as proxies  terrorists Hezbollah and Hamas, has kidnapped U.S. diplomats, threatens the annihilation of Israel  and  pursues development of nuclear weapons (notwithstanding the discredited U.S. National Intelligence Estimate).  Failure to comprehend that even this partial list reveals real threats is worse than naive.

What Obama's Senate Record Shows

There is a background to this nonsense.  Obama's website proposes "tough" presidential diplomacy with Iran "without preconditions."  But when it comes to saying what will happen if Iran refuses to abandon nuclear weaponizing and support for terrorism, the website limply says "we will step up our political pressure and diplomatic isolation." This is exactly what the U.S. and our allies have been doing for five years without success.                     
Scrutinizing Obama's Senate record shows why his "policy" is chimerical.  Last September, the Senate considered the Kyl-Lieberman Resolution "to express the sense of the Senate" that Iran's Revolutionary Guards are terrorists. The Resolution -- predicated on findings, including "evidence of complicity of Iran in murders of members of U.S. Armed Forces," Ambassador Crocker's report on futile discussions with Iranian officials in Baghdad plus continued "Iranian training and funding of illegal Shi'a militants that attack Iraqi and coalition forces and civilians" -- passed by 76-22.   Supporters included such notable "war-mongers" as Democratic Senators Clinton (N.Y.), Schumer (N.Y.), Whip Durbin (Ill.), Armed Services Chair Levin (Mich.), Majority Leader Reid (Nev.), and Intel Chair Rockefeller (W.Va.).

The Senate Ignores Obama

Obama, unable to vote because he was campaigning, did more than announce his opposition.  He introduced a counter-resolution to prohibit the U.S. from attacking Iran without explicit congressional approval.  It is not clear whether or not Obama understood that Kyl-Lieberman is non-binding  or whether he realized that the resolution prohibits U.S. forces from firing on Iran in self-defense, but his Senate colleagues understood his fecklessness.  Obama could not attract a single co-sponsor; his Resolution is gathering cobwebs in the archives.                    

Absent in Obama's rhetoric of "tough" diplomacy" is a recognition that use of force might ever be necessary to deter Iranian threats.  Whether this omission is founded on pandering to the MoveOn.Org vote or on Obama's experience as a Chicago community organizer -- teaching him that aldermen and real estate developers could be jawboned into submission -- it ignores the reality of a regime which exhibits photos of mutilated corpses of its victims.   Experienced negotiators understand that some people parley only to gain time.  Obama has compounded concern by speaking to the New York Times of the "legitimate claims" of Hezbollah and Hamas.  Ex-Ambassador John Bolton, as forceful a negotiator as you can find, believes that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time.  Obama apparently would raise this to 100%.  As Bolton concludes, this is "a naive and dangerous illusion."                                       

Granting Time to Merchants of Death

Last week, Democrats discerned apprehensions of voters concerned with national security.  They rushed into print a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed by Senate Foreign Relations Chair Joseph Biden (Del.). Biden, having surmounted prior exposure as a plagiarizer in campaign speeches and law school, is considered an elder statesman and likely Secretary of State under Obama.  Biden sought to evade Obama's negotiations "without preconditions" by explaining this means "he would not become personally involved until necessary preparations had been made and he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests."                            

We have returned to our starting point.  Obama-Biden envisions negotiations without leverage or deadlines.  Iran would be delighted to invite our President into the carpet bazaar to perpetuate the negotiations commenced five years ago by the Europeans. They would even provide refreshments. The danger is not that the carpet merchant will access your credit card but not deliver the carpets.   The peril is that Obama's policy will grant merchants of death time to confront the world with nuclear weapons deliverable on their available missiles.

Joel Sprayregen is associated with think tanks dealing with issues of security and human rights in Washington, Jerusalem, Istanbul and Ankara.