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“Victory Lap” Failure

Another “victory lap”? Really? Earlier this week, President Obama gave a speech on Iraq that was supposed to be part of a “victory lap” on making good his withdrawal from that country. Of course, we’ve seen before the problem with premature declarations of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. The situation is obviously much more stable now than it was in 2003, but it could still unravel if the U.S. doesn’t stay committed. Why take a “victory lap” now, when all indications of American disengagement weaken our leverage in Baghdad?

The question becomes even more acute in the case of Iran. The president held a White House meeting with some friendly columnists to discuss Iran. Jeff Goldberg, who was there, describes the session, as, yes, another “victory lap.” Marc Ambinder, also present, summed it up this way: “President Obama has detected ‘rumblings’ that global sanctions against Iran are slowly prodding the country to rethink its nuclear ambitions, though he conceded that Iran continues to pursue a fully-fledged nuclear weapons program.”

What rumblings are these? Other administration officials who were present explained “that Iran was recently forced to abandon an effort to develop an oil field because the IRGC didn’t have the expertise and the country could find no subcontractors who were willing to risk the penalties imposed by the sanctions.”

Good to hear that Iran is feeling some pressure, but there is, to put it mildly, no evidence that it is willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions — especially because Obama continues to talk of his burning desire to strike a deal with the mullahs, which only encourages their sense of invulnerability. In fact, in this very meeting, Obama indicated he has not given up his hope for negotiations, something that the Iranians have spurned as undiplomatically as possible. They are sure to see his groveling, continued even after their insulting refusals to talk, as a sign of weakness — as indeed it is.

Goldberg left the meeting unconvinced. His doubts are worth quoting:

I am skeptical, though, about the possibilities of a diplomatic breakthrough, for two reasons, one structural, and one related to the state of Iran’s opposition: The structural reason is simple; one of the pillars of Islamic Republic theology is anti-Americanism, and it would take an ideological earthquake to upend that pillar. And then there’s the problem of the Green Movement. If the Iranian opposition were vibrant and strong, the regime might have good reason to be sensitive to the economic impact of the new sanctions package. But the opposition is weak and divided. The regime has shown itself to be fully capable of suppressing dissent through terror. So I’m not sure how much pressure the regime feels to negotiate with the West.

Goldberg, with whom I don’t always agree, is being realistic. What’s scary is that the illusions about “outreach” in the upper reaches of this administration have still not been dispelled, despite a year and a half of experience (to say nothing of the previous 30 years of experience), which would suggest that the mullahs aren’t misunderstood moderates who are committed to “peaceful co-existence.”


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