On the subject of Iran, Obama has been stringing along the American people and our allies ever since his video valentine to the mullahs. He preached “engagement” and avoided rattling the regime after the June 12 election. He concealed the existence of the Qom enrichment facility from the UN, the American people, and our allies for as long as he could. And now he’s delighted by all the constructive chatting. No deadlines mind you. And we’re not sure if there has been a deal on sending enriched uranium to Russia — or, if there is, how we’d know how much uranium would remain. But Obama has done his part, everything humanly possible, to turn down the heat on the Iranian regime. If you wanted to delay doing anything about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a “better” approach than what we’ve seen these past nine months. (No, the Bush administration wasn’t any better, although its rhetoric was not as infuriatingly naive or obsequious.)
Nevertheless, it might be that Obama has finally used up the patience for this stall routine — even within his own party. Sen. Evan Bayh on Fox News Sunday sounded like conservative critics and his Republican colleagues when he declared that he “absolutely” has no confidence in the current talks. He explained that the Iranians “have a pattern of deception. They have a pattern of breaking agreements that they agree to.” So what should we do? Bayh isn’t into any more engagement. He declares, “They respect strength and strength alone. They’re contemptuous of weakness. So having this dialogue is good, but you’ve got to hold them to their word. What matters ultimately is not what they say but what they do.”
He’s not alone. On the same program with Bayh, Sen. Bob Casey sounded only slightly less hawkish than Bayh. But he’s also had it with endless talks: “We should not have to allow the talks to be an end in themselves. That’s why I and others have supported legislation that I know my colleagues support to provide a broad range of sanctions.” And liberal Democratic Congressman Howard Berman is sounding the alarm as well, urging that we move ahead with sanctions. Obama doesn’t allow the word sanctions to pass his lips these day (at most he says we’ll have to “move ahead” or “take action”), but he may have one or more bills sitting on his desk, whether or not he wants the bargaining leverage.
It’s unfortunate that the president sounds significantly less forceful than these Democrats. And there simply isn’t any substitute for a resolute commander in chief. The talk-and-talk-some-more option is clearly losing support in the U.S. Congress. And it has already run its course with two of our major allies. The president can’t be forced to act, but he can be encouraged — at least to put an end to the fantasy of engagement and move ahead to the “Will sanctions work?” phase.
There is plenty of reason to believe that sanctions won’t do the trick, but dispensing with the fiction that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear ambitions at a conference room in Geneva is a step in the right direction. We have wasted, thanks to Obama, most of the year. Nevertheless, those Democrats who have taken up the cause of infusing some realism and urgency into our Iran policy deserve some credit. Maybe the dithering phase will finally come to an end.