Commentary Magazine


Dead-End Talks with Iran a Success?

The talks with Iran have now concluded, at least for the time being, after meetings in Istanbul, Baghdad and, most recently, Moscow that failed to make any substantive progress. The Iranians showed no willingness to give up their nuclear weapons program or even to admit its existence. This might cause some observers to write off the talks as a failure. Au contraire. They were a major success, if you assume (as I do, cynically) that their major goal was not to stop the Iranian nuclear program but to stop (or at least delay beyond November) an Israeli strike on Iran.

Only a few months ago talk was reaching fever-pitch about the likelihood of an Israeli strike this summer, calculated to occur at a time when President Obama would be forced to back Israel if only to avoid losing pro-Israel votes in the election. Now the conventional wisdom is that, as the Wall Street Journal puts it,  “Israel is unlikely to launch a strike on Iran as long as sanctions on Tehran intensify and diplomatic efforts continue, despite the failure of international talks in Moscow this week.” The article quotes an unnamed Israeli official on the talks: “As long as the international community is willing to continue, Israel won’t say, ‘Stop.’ That’s unthinkable. If the negotiations don’t bring Iran to concessions, at least there will be a clear-cut case showing that Iran does not want to cooperate.”

I have no way of reading President Obama’s mind and have no connections to him (I’m a Romney defense adviser). But that, I bet, is exactly what the president had in mind. He is seeking reelection, after all, as the commander-in-chief who not only killed Osama bin Laden but also “ended” the war in Iraq and is in the process of “ending” the war in Afghanistan. It would be mighty inconvenient for his narrative if, prior to the voting, the U.S. were to become embroiled in another war. That helps to explain why he is so reluctant to intervene in Syria–and why he is so eager to keep Israel from bombing Iran, which could well involve the U.S. in hostilities in the Persian Gulf.

So from the president’s perspective, pushing the Iranian problem down the road makes sense. (In fairness, his much more hawkish predecessor, George W. Bush, took much the same approach if for a different reason–having gotten the U.S. embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he could not afford politically to have come off as the warmonger-in-chief by starting another war in Iran.) But if one ignores the politics and focuses solely on the underlying substance, the reality is that Iran is moving ever-closer to acquiring nuclear weapons and these dead-end talks have abetted the mullahs’ goals.