Back on March 21 at an AIPAC Conference panel, Elliott Abrams wondered aloud what the Obami meant by the oft-repeated declaration that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable”: “But do they mean it’s unacceptable or just that it is a bummer?” Now, several weeks later, we have a good idea that it means the latter. For one thing Obama now has twice suggested that really, who can guarantee that Iran won’t go nuclear? Bill Kristol notes Obama’s que sera, sera attitude toward Iranian nukes:
Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Obama told George Stephanopoulos:
“If the question is do we have a guarantee [that] the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t. I mean, the history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime, is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”
You try to do your thing with your buddies in the international community, and, you know, sometimes people choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.
This was not unlike his statement a few days earlier in a New York Times interview: “‘We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,’ he said, adding ‘there’s no light switch in this process.’” Translation: it would be a bummer, but we’re not doing anything decisive.
Had Obama not tipped his hand, it would nevertheless have been obvious that “unacceptable” meant something considerably less ironclad than wishful listeners imagined. When the means for achieving a goal are so wildly at odds with the goal, one of two things is going on: either the goal isn’t the goal or the means are designed by incompetent, un-serious people. In either case, the goal isn’t going to be reached. Here, Obama’s advisers have loudly disclaimed interest in military action (i.e., the ultimate “light switch”). And neither he nor his advisers will refer to planned sanctions as “crippling”; they instead seem to have settled for the lowest-common-denominator sort of sanctions that might attract the support of Russia and, if we are very fortunate, the Chinese support as well.
We therefore have new goals — ones that the Obami will insist are intermediary to the final objective of stopping Iran’s nuclear program, but in fact are diversions and barriers to that objective. First, we want to block unilateral action by Israel. So we set about to isolate Israel, rough up the prime minister, and create ambiguity as to whether the U.S. would endorse or countenance such a move. Second, we prepare the groundwork for a sanctions agreement by the “international community” that will be trumpeted as a great “success” — because, after all, it’s international and it’s an agreement. That it will be greeted with derision and ignored by the mullahs is irrelevant. The Obami will make the case that they delivered on the promise of sanctions and can’t really be blamed if Iran doesn’t “choose to change behavior.” But the passage of the new sanctions will, the Obami insist, require that we give them time “to work,” so, in the meantime, no unilateral sanctions by Congress and definitely no unilateral military action by Israel. In other words, the intermediary goal — an international agreement — becomes a barrier to decisive action to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions.
When looking back on the last fifteen months, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a better designed plan to delay confrontation and lay the ground work for the acceptance of a nuclear armed Iran. The nonsensical engagement policy, a series of ephemeral deadlines, the quietude on the Green Movement, the watering down of sanctions, and the warnings to Israel are all means that fit a specific end — not that of preventing a nuclear armed Iran, but rather that of preventing a confrontation with a regime desirous of obtaining nuclear weapons. If that wasn’t the game plan all along, it’s a remarkable coincidence that it all lines up so neatly. And in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter whether this was the primary plan or the back-up plan. We have reached the point in which the only chance to block Iran’s nuclear plans is a change of heart by a recalcitrant Obama administration convinced of its own virtue, or an Israeli military strike. We better hope there is a workable plan for the latter, for the former is exceptionally unlikely.