Commentary Magazine


Could We Have Done Worse?

In the never-ending quest to do not much of anything to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the Obami, we are told, are “walking a delicate diplomatic path.” On one hand, they are being played, and know it. (“They acknowledge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be using negotiations to limit U.N. pressure while also working to legitimize his government domestically.”) But then again, they don’t want to upset the — you knew this was coming — “moderate opposition forces inside Iran.” So they stall. Yes, yes, they’ve been stalling for some time now, pretending that the regime would show interest in a grand bargain, downplaying Qom, cooking up the flimsiest of enrichment deals to provide cover for doing not much of anything, protracting the process of being rejected, ignoring news of other possible secret sites (that would fall under the “known unknowns,” in Donald Rumsfeld parlance), and refusing to concede that we’ve gotten nowhere. It’s a lot of work doing nothing for that long.

So what’s next? They’ll get cracking on this next year. Yeah, honestly:

The officials said Mr. Obama remains committed to ratcheting up pressure early next year, and that Washington is cobbling together a coalition of allies to punish Tehran even if Beijing and Moscow balk. The U.S. has also been talking with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about how to utilize oil sales to pressure Tehran. “Our patience is limited. The president has made clear that at the end of the year we’ll be able to decide” if Iran is serious, said Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s top official on nonproliferation, last week. “April 2010 is too late.”

April 2010 is too late, but November 2009 is too early. And it seems we are already banking on the noncooperation of Moscow, whose cooperation was the rationale for doing nothing this year. (I suppose we were chumps after all for giving up the missile-defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.)

The result: we will have given Iran yet another year free of outside pressure, enabling it to proceed with its nuclear program. And along the way, we’ve helped bolster the mullahs and defund the democratic opposition. If we had tried to help the regime achieve its aims, we would have been hard pressed to do “better.” And if we were supposed to be defanging the threat of a nuclear-armed fundamentalist Islamic state and staving off a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East, we could hardly have done worse. But maybe next year will be better. Or whenever.