Doing Stupid Things with Iran

The Obama administration has obviously decided to go silent on human rights abuses in Iran in hopes of concentrating like a laser on arms control. It is true that it is urgently necessary to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The last three administrations -- Clinton, Bush, and Obama -- have agreed on that if on little else.

The operating assumption for the U.S. negotiators with Iran is that if we make a big fuss about human rights abuses -- intensifying under President Hassan Rouhani -- it will impede our ability to strike a deal on nuclear weapons.

It this assumption true? Let’s try some history. Let’s even consult some hidden history. Claire Berlinsky has given us this important study in the respected City Journal. Her article (“The Hidden History of Evil”) is based on the work of famed Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. From it, we learn that Sen. Joe Biden went to Moscow with a Republican colleague, Dick Lugar, in 1979. There, the two U.S. lawmakers made a strong impression on their Soviet hosts. The United States was focused on arms control. That was our Number One goal. And, hence, human rights would have to take a back seat.

Now, the president at that time was Sen. Biden’s fellow Democrat, Jimmy Carter. And Carter was trying, sincerely if ineffectually, to advance the cause of human rights. So here was Biden in the Kremlin telling the KGB that human rights was really window dressing: What the U.S. really cares about is arms control.

We know what happened after that. The Soviets overthrew the Afghan government and invaded that distant land. They backed Communist insurgencies in Africa and Latin America. More people lost their freedom during the Carter years than at any time since China fell under Communist rule. Those suffering millions might be consoled -- if they survived his administration -- by the fact that Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize.

As a result of Biden and Lugar’s hamhandedness, thousands were thrown into the Gulag. And we had to wait another decade for arms control.

The 1979 Biden and Lugar Mission to Moscow undercut President Carter’s message on human rights. That was something, candidly, that Carter himself did on an almost daily basis. But it had disastrous consequences for the whole course of U.S.-Soviet relations.

When Ronald Reagan entered office, a new direction was signaled. The KGB watched as he fired thousands of striking air traffic controllers. What did this domestic issue have to do with foreign relations?

Reagan’s secretary of state, George Schulz, would later say that it was his chief’s most important foreign policy decision. The KGB took note and they reported to Brezhnev and Andropov, their Kremlin bosses: “With Reagan, words are deeds!”

That sent a message to Moscow of U.S. determination and Reagan’s seriousness of purpose. When Reagan finally met with Gorbachev, in 1985, he brought a list of dissidents and unjustly imprisoned Russians. He pressed Gorbachev to release Jewish refusenik Natan Scharansky. Reagan had worked from the first days of his administration to gain freedom for the Siberian Seven, Pentecostal Christians who had taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

President Reagan always linked human rights to arms control. And he built up U.S. defenses even as he put in place American Cruise and Pershing missiles. He publicly condemned Soviet oppression -- of their own people and others. He reminded Westerners daily of the suppression of religious freedom by the atheist rulers of the USSR.

In just a few years, Reagan was able to sign the largest nuclear arms reduction treaty in history. He could also celebrate the release of Scharansky, freedom of emigration for the Siberian Seven, and even the end of “internal exile” for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Andrei Sakharov. Sakharov, the “father of the Soviet H-bomb,” had become a leading advocate for human rights in the USSR.

What have we gained from President Obama’s “Soft Power”? What has Iran done but pocket the concessions and continue on its path toward a nuclear weapon? President Obama says the hallmark of his foreign policy is “don’t do stupid things.” Then why is he persisting in this stupid policy toward Iran?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that “’don’t do stupid things’ is not an organizing principle for a great nation.” She was right about that. So, she immediately apologized, lest someone think she was criticizing President Obama. It was as if there was anyone else on earth who thought “Don’t Do Stupid Things” should be elevated to the level of “Don’t Give Up the Ship!”

We are doing stupid things. We are giving up the ship. This administration, for example, is failing to press Tehran on the cruel and brutal imprisonment of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American. Thus, they show the mullahs in Tehran they can seize our embassy, imprison our people, murder our Marines and Navy Corpsmen -- and still get away with it. By ignoring the noose behind the false smile of Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, we are demonstrating for all the world that we are not serious about human rights or arms control. All the while, Iran's nuclear clock is still ticking.