Commentary Magazine


No Reason to Believe “Obama’s Many Iran Promises”

Yesterday’s explosion at a facility in Isfahan, Iran is the sort of vague story that inspires hope the Islamic republic’s nuclear weapons program can be stopped. We don’t know whether what happened there was the result of sabotage by U.S. and/or Israeli agents, but whatever the cause, we can only pray the damage was serious. If so, this may be just one more piece of evidence proving that a covert war is being waged on Iran by foreign intelligence services that have sought to corrupt the ayatollah’s computers, kill their scientists and wreck their facilities by any means possible. While there are good reasons to be skeptical this campaign will be an effective answer to the nuclear threat, the possibility that the U.S. is doing all it can short of open war is the best, and perhaps only, defense of Barack Obama’s record on the issue.

Because force may be the only avenue left to stopping Iran, gaining an understanding of Obama’s real intentions on the issue is vital not only to the upcoming election but to the future of the region. On that score, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg takes up the cudgels for Obama in a piece in which he assembles a raft of quotes from the president assuring us he will not let Iran obtain nuclear weapons. The quotes are accurate and consistent and lead Goldberg to believe the many attacks on the president’s record on Iran are unfair. The only problem with this argument is that they are just words. Obama’s critics on the issue have never had a problem with his pledges to do something about Iran. Rather, it is his lack of effective action that has branded him a failure in this case.

A brief review of that record shows that the last three years have seen U.S. policy on Iran go from disaster to disaster. Obama wasted his first year in office on a foolish attempt at “engagement” with Iran that was predicated on the hubristic assumption the magic of the president’s personality would allow appeasement to succeed when previous efforts by both the U.S. and the Europeans had failed. Since then, Obama has attempted to assemble an international coalition in favor of sanctions that would force the Iranians to give in. The result has been less than satisfactory, because even after appeasing Russia and China, the best Obama could produce was a series of weak sanctions that the Iranians have mocked–just as they did his engagement efforts.

With the International Atomic Energy Association’s latest report on Iran’s progress towards a military application of nuclear power, the need for tougher sanctions is apparent. But Russia and China have both made it clear they will have none of it, leaving Obama with no effective diplomatic options. Washington has not enforced the existing weak sanctions on Iran even when it came to U.S. companies, so why should we expect the Russians and Germans, who do far more business with Tehran, to go along with harsher measures?

Add to that the clear signals coming from the administration indicating they are not even seriously considering the use of force if diplomacy fails and that they are working harder to pressure Israel to abstain from an attack than they are to persuade the rest of the world to agree to sanction Iran, and what you have is an indication that this administration is prepared to live with a nuclear Iran, no matter what Obama says publicly. Under the circumstances, the ayatollahs could be justified in thinking their path to nukes is clear since they are, with the help of the Russians, well situated to run out the clock with negotiations until the day dawns when they can announce their first successful nuclear test.

All we have to balance against this litany of failure is the hope that somehow covert intelligence activity will be enough to make up for all of the time Obama’s failed diplomacy has bought the Iranian scientists. But considering that we don’t know how much damage the Stuxnet virus, the assassinations of Iranian nuclear technicians and the “accidents” occurring there have done or what role American intelligence has played in this drama, it is impossible to use it as a defense of Obama.

Goldberg concludes his piece by saying, “I have seen no proof to suggest that Obama would simply give up the fight” if his current diplomatic initiatives fail–as they almost certainly will. But in the last three years, as American appeasement and ineffectual diplomacy have granted Tehran a series of undeserved victories, Obama has given us no reason — let alone proof — to believe his promises to stop the ayatollahs are anything more than hot air. While Goldberg and other liberals may have faith in him, the only battle on Iran Obama appears dedicated to winning is the one for American public opinion in advance of the 2012 election.

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