In an interview last week with Al Arabiya, Hillary Clinton expressed surprise that “engagement” has failed, since “so many experts” thought it would succeed:
People say to me all the time, what happened to Iran? … When President Obama came in, he was very clear that he wanted to engage, and that’s what he’s been trying to do — reaching out to the Iranian people, reaching out to the Iranian leadership. And you have to ask yourself, why, when so many experts thought that there would be a positive response to President Obama’s outreach, has there not?
It’s a puzzler. But who were those experts who thought an outstretched hand, a video, an apology, a private letter, and a speech would cause Iran to slow (much less agree to stop) its nuclear weapons program? How many thought a nine-month period for response would produce anything other than nine months of uninterrupted centrifuge-spinning? Was there some hitherto unknown academic study of lion-lamb relations that gave the experts cause for optimism?
An explanation for the Iranian reaction is suggested by the question Ruth Wisse once asked in a different context: “Did the bleat of the lamb excite the tiger?” Obama set a deadline, then another, and then discarded any deadline at all; the result was open contempt from Iran’s president. The current effort to move to the “pressure track” of a UN resolution (with a strong letter to follow) is accompanied by public assurances from the secretary of state that the “engagement track” remains open and that the third track has been removed from the table. This is a foreign policy that would embarrass Neville Chamberlain.
The explanation Clinton gave to Al Arabiya for the expert-confounding situation was that the power of the Revolutionary Guard has been growing. But that explanation elicits the question: what caused it to grow? Bill Kristol’s analysis from 2006 now looks prophetic:
One of the bad side effects of our looking weak and hesitant is that in the last year Ahmadinejad’s been running around provoking everyone, behaving like a madman, thumbing his nose at the U.S. and the West — and he pays no price. And if one were an opponent of Admadinejad in Iran — not a dissident, but someone in government who is kind of a more cautious type, and you’ve been warning, “gee, this will get us in trouble” — and [Admadinejad] gets in no trouble at all — it’s very bad for the internal dynamics in Iran. I think we have inadvertently helped to strengthen [hardliners] in Iran by not responding vigorously.
Clinton’s Al Arabyia interview marked the inauguration of a new, exculpatory administration meme: don’t blame us for the failure of our “engagement” policy — it was thwarted by the triumph of the Iranian hardliners. But that triumph was the predictable result of the policy itself.
Obama’s obsessive “reaching out to the Iranian leadership,” starting in his inauguration speech and continuing month after month in spite of no Iranian response, sent an unmistakable signal — one confirmed when he stood mute after the fraudulent Iranian election; confirmed again after he offered a muffled response to the secret nuclear facility in Qom; confirmed yet again when he remained silent as each of his “deadlines” passed; and confirmed even now by his continuing silence on the subject as he devotes his speeches and attention to ObamaCare. Lions know a lamb when they see one.