While President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been obsessing about the Israeli-Palestinian talks they have orchestrated, the collapse of their feckless Iran policy is becoming more apparent. A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency released on Monday disclosed the fact that the Iranians have again barred inspectors from their nuclear sites and refused to answer questions and hand over data about their program.
For anyone who has been following the Iranian drive for nuclear capability, this is hardly a surprise. Tehran has been stonewalling the international community for years about nukes. But the latest refusals apparently came only weeks after the United Nations Security Council passed its latest sanctions against the regime. These measures were, we were told by the administration, the “harshest” punishments yet enacted. What’s more, as the New York Times helpfully reminds us, “For several weeks the Obama administration has argued that the sanctions are beginning to bite.”
Yet while the Iranians have faced more restrictions on their commerce as a result of the UN sanctions, though not nearly as much as they would if the international community were serious about stopping Iran, the only thing they have proved is that the Iranians are still convinced that the West is bluffing. And one can hardly blame them for thinking that.
Washington spent a year pretending that Obama’s desire to “engage” with the Iranian regime was working. But the administration was forced to concede in 2010 that the Ahmadinejad/Khamenei regime was making a fool of the president and his envoys. But while the chastened Obama has talked tough — at least for him — about Iran, his credibility on the issue is lacking. After appeasing both Russia and China on other issues, the best that the administration could do in terms of an international consensus on sanctions were the lukewarm measures passed by the UN Security Council. Knowing the herculean effort required to get even those minimal proposals passed, the Iranians understand that ratcheting up the sanctions even further simply is beyond the administration’s powers. And since everything Obama has said and done in his 20 months in office has led most observers (except the most determined of optimists) to believe that the military option is definitely off the table, why should Tehran think it couldn’t build a nuclear weapon with impunity?
Despite the lip service the administration has paid to the threat from Iran, there’s little doubt that it is reluctant to confront that threat in a serious manner. Instead, it has devoted most of its foreign policy energy to the Sisyphean task of bringing Israel and the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table even though it is readily apparent that the Palestinian leadership hasn’t the authority to conclude peace and make it stick even if the Israelis were to concede every conceivable point of contention. Obama has placed all of his, and his negotiating partner’s, chips on the current talks. Which means that after they fail — and it is almost inevitable that they will — the only winner will be Hamas and its Iranian patrons.
Though Washington has tried to convince Israel that being more forthcoming with the Palestinians will make it easier to get the rest of the West to take the Iranian dilemma more seriously, the scenario that is rapidly unfolding is one that is designed to weaken the already meager international support for harsher sanctions on Tehran while doing nothing to increase the chances of peace. Despite the administration’s bravado, the only thing the sanctions they worked so hard to pass are “biting” is the president’s pride.