Engagement is all the rage in the administration. Once thought to be a necessary step, a prelude to sanctions if needed, it has become an end in itself. We are slowly but steadily being dragged into the quicksand of negotiations with despots who have perfected the art of stalling. Jeffery Herf describes in the New Republic the lack of symmetry when secretive, despotic regimes sit down to negotiate with democracies. He observes:
Iranian negotiators have proven themselves to be skillful tacticians, and they are likely to exploit this asymmetry by doing two things: playing for time and raising the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Their rationale for doing the former is obvious: The absence of freedom in Iran will only become more and more of a tactical advantage the longer negotiations continue, as pressures for compromise build up on only one side. As for the latter: By pointing to Israel’s nuclear weapons, Iran knows that it can exploit the existing hostility toward Israel in many European countries.
And sure enough, down the slippery slope we tumble. Chasing a deal that is always elusive and bickering over what it was we agreed to. And the gambit here, Herf predicts, will be to turn the tables on Israel and push for a “nuclear free” Middle East. That’s a nonstarter, so the proposed solution is to allow Iran to get a nuclear arsenal, too.
What about sanctions? Herf rightly sees this as too little and too late. Then there are the unhelpful powers China and Russia, which aren’t impressed with the Nobel laureate’s entreaties. So what then? Well, there’s the military option, much pooh-poohed by the Obama team, which wants desperately to do nothing more than chat. Herf argues:
This brings us to the one policy option that Tehran truly fears–and thus the only one that gives these negotiations any realistic chance of success: a credible threat of military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the United States, perhaps joined by Britain and France, or Israel. If the Iranian leadership believed that such an attack was a real possibility, it, or some parts of it, might be persuaded to change course.
Unfortunately, Obama’s threats, even if he could be persuaded to disappoint the Left here and abroad, wouldn’t exactly ring true. Obama draw a line in the sand? The president who can’t send troops to win a war we’re already in? He’s not about to make them cower in Iran after all the Supreme Leader hooey and the we-are-the-not-Bush-administration lingo.
Herf is right: the military option, or the threat of it, is the only option. Unfortunately, the man in the Oval Office isn’t the one to execute it.