Commentary Magazine


Topic: Danielle Pletka

Obama’s Iran Policy: A Dead End

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Read Less

Sarkozy Has Figured It Out Too

As this report explains, “The American and French presidents called for quick action on sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, with U.S. President Barack Obama saying he believed such penalties could be approved by the United Nations in a matter of weeks.” But French President Nicolas Sarkozy can barely conceal his unease with Obama’s lackadaisical attitude toward the mullahs:

Mr. Sarkozy has been one of the strongest advocates for sanctions against Iran among the Western allies. “The time has come to take decisions,” he said at the news conference. “Iran cannot continue its mad race.”

Despite the public harmony, U.S. analysts who have discussed the issue with French leaders said Paris has grown concerned that Mr. Obama may be repeating the path of the Bush administration, which failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program through U.N. sanctions.

“There’s worry on Iran,” said Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO during both the Bush and Obama administrations. “The French… want to play hardball and they want to push, and I think they worry a little bit about where is the administration’s bottom line. Yes, we’re pushing sanctions, but what then?”

And then Obama’ s hamhanded diplomacy hasn’t helped matters any. (“The meeting between the two presidents comes at a tense time in bilateral relations. Mr. Sarkozy appeared publicly supportive of Mr. Obama’s candidacy during the 2008 presidential campaign. But relations have cooled as a result of perceived diplomatic snubs — the Obamas didn’t have dinner with the Sarkozys during their June visit to Paris, for example — and policy differences.”) So much for enhancing our relationship with allies.

Others are similarly perturbed that Obama’s sanctions approach is too little and too late. Danielle Pletka explains that in Obama’s obsession with engaging the Iranian regime:

He was unwilling to take no for an answer. How else to explain Mr. Obama’s lack of interest in the Iranian people’s democratic protests against the regime. Or his seeming indifference to Tehran’s failure to meet repeated international deadlines to respond to an offer endorsed by all five permanent U.N. Security Council members (and Germany) to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russia, receiving back enriched fuel rods that do not lend themselves to weapons production. One might have hoped the administration was using that time to build international consensus for a plan B. But apparently that’s not the case.

So Obama goes through the motions, but with little indication that China or Russia will be joining in a unified sanctions effort or that the sanctions will be commensurate with the goal — persuading the mullahs to give up their nuclear ambitions. We are engaged now in a massive charade — Obama pretends to be serious about preventing a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state, our allies nervously eye one another, and the mullahs proceed with nary a care that they might face their own existential threat (give up the nukes or perish). But the kabuki dance must end soon.

After bludgeoning Israel over Jerusalem and making clear to all onlookers that there is nothing currently “rock solid” about the U.S. relationship with Israel, Obama nevertheless expects the Jewish state to continue to play along with the engagement/sanctions pantomime. However, if the Israeli government has learned anything over the last week, it is to appreciate just how deeply disingenuous is the Obama administration, and how little the Jewish state can rely on the Obami for its security. The Obama administration is dedicated to reorienting America away from its alliance with Israel and elevating (it imagines) its status in the Muslim World and within international organizations, which have little interest in doing whatever is necessary to enforce existing sanctions, let alone enacting new ones to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Certainly, Netanyahu shares Sarkozy’s skepticism. Now he must consider just how much longer to indulge the Obami’s creep toward containment. And for those here in the U.S. who correctly perceive that the unacceptable is on the verge of happening, the question remains: what, if anything, can be done to shake the administration from its slumber?

As this report explains, “The American and French presidents called for quick action on sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, with U.S. President Barack Obama saying he believed such penalties could be approved by the United Nations in a matter of weeks.” But French President Nicolas Sarkozy can barely conceal his unease with Obama’s lackadaisical attitude toward the mullahs:

Mr. Sarkozy has been one of the strongest advocates for sanctions against Iran among the Western allies. “The time has come to take decisions,” he said at the news conference. “Iran cannot continue its mad race.”

Despite the public harmony, U.S. analysts who have discussed the issue with French leaders said Paris has grown concerned that Mr. Obama may be repeating the path of the Bush administration, which failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program through U.N. sanctions.

“There’s worry on Iran,” said Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO during both the Bush and Obama administrations. “The French… want to play hardball and they want to push, and I think they worry a little bit about where is the administration’s bottom line. Yes, we’re pushing sanctions, but what then?”

And then Obama’ s hamhanded diplomacy hasn’t helped matters any. (“The meeting between the two presidents comes at a tense time in bilateral relations. Mr. Sarkozy appeared publicly supportive of Mr. Obama’s candidacy during the 2008 presidential campaign. But relations have cooled as a result of perceived diplomatic snubs — the Obamas didn’t have dinner with the Sarkozys during their June visit to Paris, for example — and policy differences.”) So much for enhancing our relationship with allies.

Others are similarly perturbed that Obama’s sanctions approach is too little and too late. Danielle Pletka explains that in Obama’s obsession with engaging the Iranian regime:

He was unwilling to take no for an answer. How else to explain Mr. Obama’s lack of interest in the Iranian people’s democratic protests against the regime. Or his seeming indifference to Tehran’s failure to meet repeated international deadlines to respond to an offer endorsed by all five permanent U.N. Security Council members (and Germany) to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russia, receiving back enriched fuel rods that do not lend themselves to weapons production. One might have hoped the administration was using that time to build international consensus for a plan B. But apparently that’s not the case.

So Obama goes through the motions, but with little indication that China or Russia will be joining in a unified sanctions effort or that the sanctions will be commensurate with the goal — persuading the mullahs to give up their nuclear ambitions. We are engaged now in a massive charade — Obama pretends to be serious about preventing a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state, our allies nervously eye one another, and the mullahs proceed with nary a care that they might face their own existential threat (give up the nukes or perish). But the kabuki dance must end soon.

After bludgeoning Israel over Jerusalem and making clear to all onlookers that there is nothing currently “rock solid” about the U.S. relationship with Israel, Obama nevertheless expects the Jewish state to continue to play along with the engagement/sanctions pantomime. However, if the Israeli government has learned anything over the last week, it is to appreciate just how deeply disingenuous is the Obama administration, and how little the Jewish state can rely on the Obami for its security. The Obama administration is dedicated to reorienting America away from its alliance with Israel and elevating (it imagines) its status in the Muslim World and within international organizations, which have little interest in doing whatever is necessary to enforce existing sanctions, let alone enacting new ones to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Certainly, Netanyahu shares Sarkozy’s skepticism. Now he must consider just how much longer to indulge the Obami’s creep toward containment. And for those here in the U.S. who correctly perceive that the unacceptable is on the verge of happening, the question remains: what, if anything, can be done to shake the administration from its slumber?

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.