If the Obama administration was seeking to reassure the pro-Israel community, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to make a joint appearance with James Baker on PBS’s Charlie Rose was a curious way to go about it. Baker, who earned a reputation as one of the least sympathetic to Israel of all of Clinton’s predecessors, joined with the current secretary in making it clear the Jewish state should under no circumstances be allowed to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own. Baker was right when he said stopping Iran is an American responsibility rather than that of Israel. But coming as it did in the days following the failure of the administration’s latest diplomatic initiative with Iran, the current secretary’s faith in efforts to keep trying to talk with the Iranians and to wait for them to buckle under the weight of sanctions is evidence that neither she nor the president have a clue as to how to stop the nuclear threat.
Clinton’s assertion to Rose that U.S. policy was to “take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can” was an indication that the sense of urgency about the problem is clearly lacking. Clinging to the false belief that the president has expressed in the existence of a “window of diplomacy” with Iran, Clinton seems to regard the international coalition she has assembled to pursue the talks and sanctions as an accomplishment in of itself, even though it seems incapable of bringing about a solution to the problem. It is that attitude that makes it hard to believe even after the latest P5+1 standoff in Moscow, this administration will ever come to grips with the fact that the Iranians don’t think they are serious.
Though characteristically harsh about Israel and expressing the sort of “realist” views about foreign policy that marked his own unhappy tenure at the State Department during the presidency of the first George Bush, Baker did assert that it would be America’s job to take out the Iranian nuclear program if “at the end of the day” diplomacy failed. That was a bit farther than Clinton, who made the usual noises about keeping all options open, would go. But the reason why the Iranians acted in Moscow as if they had all the cards in their hands is that they think the Obama administration will never admit that “the end of the day” for diplomacy will ever come.
It is true that at the end of the month, the first step toward the implementation of a partial oil boycott of Iran will begin. That’s the sort of sanction that should have been put in place years ago rather than the foolish charade of diplomacy that characterized U.S policy toward Iran under George W. Bush and the farce of Obama’s attempt to “engage” Tehran. Unfortunately, with the Iranians having already stepped up refinement of uranium and now erasing evidence of their military research, it may be too late for even the toughest of sanctions to force them to back down.
That means months more of futile talks and meetings on Obama and Clinton’s watch will only bring the Iranians that much closer to their nuclear goal, with little indication that they are anywhere close to understanding that the “window” they have been trying to exploit closed even before they tried to open it. And so long as she is partnering with the Russians and the Chinese, Clinton should know by now that they have no intention of ever letting the U.S. prevail on this issue.
Though it would certainly be better for all the parties, especially the Iranians, if they were persuaded to give up before it comes to the use of force, it is time for Clinton to start sounding more like Baker when it comes to threatening Iran. Until the Iranians are finally convinced the president knows that “the end of the day” for diplomacy is about to arrive, there is little chance they will be persuaded that the Americans will ever really lift a finger to stop them.