John has already commented on the news that Iran has announced plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. I want to stress how humiliating this news is, or should be, for the Obama administration, indeed for the entire Democratic party’s foreign-policy establishment. For years the Democrats’ wise men and wise women were bitterly critical of the Bush administration’s alleged failure to reach out to Iran, even though in the second term there was actually quite a bit of outreach, with U.S. representatives meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva and Baghdad. But never mind. The Democratic establishment somehow talked itself into believing that the real problem was American enmity toward Iran. If only the U.S. would reach out some more, they suggested, Iran would surely give up or at least suspend its nuclear ambitions. Barack Obama’s genius during the campaign was to take the most extreme version of this position, with his promise to meet personally with the leaders of Iran and other anti-American dictatorships during his first year in office — another campaign pledge that, mercifully, appears unlikely to be fulfilled. Hillary Clinton, back when she was a presidential candidate, criticized Obama correctly for his naiveté, but she too put her faith in diplomacy with Iran.
Now after almost a year in office we see where Obama’s outreach has gotten us: nowhere. Actually that’s not quite accurate. The administration has made an impact: if the latest pronouncements from Tehran are to be believed, Obama’s policies are making the problem worse, not better, because they are leading to an expansion of the Iranian nuclear program. This should hardly be a surprise. Toothless as the Bush policy was toward Iran, at least there was an element of deterrence as long as George W. Bush himself was in the White House. The mullahs could always sweat a little as they imagined that they might be next in line to feel American military power after Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, there was evidence that they temporarily suspended parts of their nuclear program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There is no such concern now. The odds of U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear program — probably the only thing that could serve as serious deterrent — have gone from remote to nonexistent. Obama’s efforts at glad-handing have been interpreted, correctly, as evidence of American weakness and a further spur to nuclear development. Khameini and Ahmadinejad & Co. aren’t even bothering to be polite as they brush aside offers, such as the one to export their uranium for enrichment abroad. They wear their contempt for the West quite openly because they are not afraid of suffering any repercussions.
It is just possible that the Iranians have overplayed their hand. Perhaps the latest Iranian outrages will prompt a rethink in the White House as occurred during the Carter administration when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shocked another naive president into realizing that his own goodwill would not be enough to overcome determined adversaries. But at the moment, that is a faint hope. The best we can expect in the short term is more toothless Security Council resolutions with sanctions that will do nothing to slow down the Iranian march toward its nuclear dreams. That, in turn, means that an Israeli strike against Iran is getting more likely, even though Israel probably does not have the capability to disrupt the Iranian program for more than a limited period. In sum: through his determination to avoid a conflict with Iran, Obama is making war more likely.