President Obama, after his ill-conceived outreach to Iran, has yet to learn the lesson each of his predecessors also learned, be they Democrat or Republican: The problem with diplomacy with the Islamic Republic isn’t the American will, but rather the lack of Iranian sincerity.
The Senate, however, has a longer strategic memory and voted 100-0 to impose sanctions and is at least less likely to be taken for fools. These sanctions were successful: The Iranian currency crashed and, in December, a group of 30 parliamentarians in Iran—hardliners all—asked for a closed session to have a serious discussion about the real impact of sanctions. Likewise, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ economic wing acknowledged that sanctions have had bite. Bluster remains strong from among Iranian hardliners that sanctions have had no effect, but it is clear they doth protest too much.
Still, holes remain in sanctions. The biggest two, of course, are Russia and China. The Kremlin believes it has a win-win strategy. On one hand, it can sell Iran billions of dollars in nuclear supplies and weapons systems. On the other hand, if there is a strike that spikes oil production, Putin can laugh himself and his faltering economy to the bank. Unless the White House signals that the entirety of the U.S.-Russian relationship—including many things Russia desires from the United States—depends on Russian flexibility on the Iran issue, Russia is unlikely to budge. After all, as Russian TV recently let slip, Iran’s Supreme Leader is perhaps the Soviet educational system’s greatest alum.
China, of course, cares about its energy security. The Obama administration’s strategy to leverage Saudi influence and force China to choose between Iran and Saudi oil has yet to succeed. Alas, until the Obama administration convinces China the status quo is not an option and failure to reverse Iran’s nuclear trajectory will lead to war and a disruption in China’s energy supply, Beijing is unlikely to budge.
The biggest disappointments, however, have been India and Turkey. India is simply predatory, and Indian bureaucrats do not understand or care that they have a real opportunity to build a meaningful alliance with the United States that will serve them well against both the immediate Pakistani threat and the longer term Chinese threat. Delhi continues to show the world it’s not ready for prime time, as it sacrifices long term interests for a mediocre short-term gain.
That Obama continues to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s double-dealing is diplomatic and strategic malpractice. According to the Turkish press, Turkish banks—with the tacit support of Obama’s personal friend Recep Tayyip Erdogan—have been providing their Iranian counterparts and Iranian businesses with an outlet to avoid sanctions. When Iran develops its nuclear warhead and throws the region into chaos, Turkey will be able to at least claim some credit for Iran’s success. Obama and Secretary of State Clinton like to refer to Turkey as a model; alas, it once again proves itself not an ally, only a model for deceit.