As Charles Krauthammer notes, we have frittered away a critical year with Iran with perhaps the stupidest foreign-policy gambit in a generation: the notion that we could prostrate ourselves before tyrannical regime and thus endear ourselves to it and talk it out of its nuclear ambitions. The timing could not have been worse, as he observes:
We lost a year. But it was not just any year. It was a year of spectacularly squandered opportunity. In Iran, it was a year of revolution, beginning with a contested election and culminating this week in huge demonstrations mourning the death of the dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri — and demanding no longer a recount of the stolen election but the overthrow of the clerical dictatorship. . .
Why is this so important? Because revolutions succeed at that singular moment, that imperceptible historical inflection, when the people, and particularly those in power, realize that the regime has lost the mandate of heaven.
And apparently we have only begun to deliver the bouquets of legitimacy, as we consider the first high-level visit since the 1979 revolution by an American official — the president’s unofficial secretary of state. (Hillary Clinton will still be busy with agricultural projects in India or with whatever she does when not singing the praises of the Obami’s non-existent human-rights policy.)
It is, in Krauthammer’s words, “unforgivable,” whether from a human-rights perspective or a nuclear-deterrence standpoint, that we should have given sustenance to the mullahs in a year in which depriving them of the same might have made a very big difference. It is what comes from believing that the world’s problems and the threats to the security of the West arise from misunderstandings or from America’s own “belligerence,” which if muffled would bring forth a new era of cooperation. It is the same mentality that supposes that moving terrorists from Guantanamo to Illinois will earn brownie points with would-be terrorists. Just don’t make them mad and we’ll be safer.
As Stephen Hayes explains in a must-read piece, there was zero evidence that this sort of approach would work with Iran:
The problem, it turns out, was not George W. Bush. It wasn’t a lack of American goodwill or our failure to acknowledge mistakes or our underdeveloped national listening skills. The problem is the Iranian regime. This should have been clear from the beginning, and should have been glaringly obvious after the fraudulent election and the deadly response to the brave Iranians who questioned the results. There were plenty of clues: an Iranian president who routinely denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel; a long record of using terrorism as an instrument of state power; the provision of safe haven to senior al Qaeda leaders in the months and years after the 9/11 attacks; and a policy, approved at the highest levels of the Iranian leadership, of trying to kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Obami deny being naive about the nature of the regime, but the repetition of their disclaimer suggests they are sensitive on the point. Indeed, their policy “of the extended hand, of the gratuitous apology,” has as its central feature the belief that becoming inoffensive makes aggressors less inclined to pursue their aims. But what historical precedent is there for this? The record is replete with examples to the contrary. Pick your favorite — WWII, the Cold War, etc.
Because the policy of engagement is so nonsensical one is left wondering whether the end game is and has always been some form of “nuclear containment,” which is itself quite preposterous when it comes to a revolutionary Islamic state that has already announced its regional aspirations (including the elimination of the Jewish state) and compiled a track record of terror sponsorship. But it does explain the Obami’s effort to be inoffensive, talk down military options, and defer sanctions until the time line on halting the mullahs’ nuclear program collapses on itself. (Too late!)
These two explanations are, of course, not mutually exclusive. The Obami’s may have thought they’d give engagement their best shot, with the “back up” plan of learning to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Do you feel safer yet?) Regardless, we are in a far worse position at the end of 2009 because we were practicing engagement at the exact moment we should have been pressing for regime change. It was a colossal misjudgment, one which will be viewed, I suspect, (along with the decision to give KSM a civilian trial) as among the worst national-security calls by any president.