President Obama will speak to the United Nations today, and excerpts from his text that have already been released contain his pledge that he will not seek to contain a nuclear Iran and that “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” That is a vow that we must all earnestly hope that he will keep if he is re-elected. But as welcome as this renewal of his past pledges on Iran may be, it does leave open the question of how he plans to implement it and whether his judgment about the subject is any less clouded than it has been throughout his four years in office. After all, the president has been saying that an Iranian nuke is unacceptable since he was in the Senate, but his record of achievement on the issue is worse than negligible.
It’s important to remember the dichotomy between the president’s words and his actions on Iran not just because the UN speech, like much of what he has said on the subject, seems aimed more at American voters than at Tehran. The Washington Post devoted considerable space yesterday to an article devoted to spinning his record on Iran as mixed. He was given credit for organizing an “unprecedented” international coalition to support sanctions on Iran, but even the Post had to concede that the sanctions haven’t worked and there is no prospect of them ever succeeding in forcing the Iranians to surrender their nuclear ambitions. Most damning of all is the fact that, as the Post put it, “Iran’s rate of production of enriched uranium has nearly tripled since Obama took office.” Years of talking about engagement and diplomacy followed by belated and loosely enforced sanctions have convinced the Iranians that Obama isn’t serious no matter what he says today at the UN. But the question is not only whether the ayatollahs should take his warnings at face value, but also why anyone else should.
The Post’s short history of Obama’s path on Iran traces its beginnings rooted in what the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka rightly termed “Bush derangement syndrome.” As with his decision to distance the U.S. from Israel because he thought President George W. Bush was too close to the Jewish state, Obama’s frame of reference on Iran was that his predecessor was to blame for problems with Tehran. Bush had actually tried diplomacy — outsourced to the Europeans — and failed, but Obama thought the magic of his personality could resolve everything. But the Iranians, focused as they were on not letting anything the Americans did or said divert them from their nuclear goal, rejected his overtures and smugly concluded he was a paper tiger when he stayed silent about their brutal repression of dissidents (something Obama now says he regrets).
The administration continues to brag of their great achievement in passing sanctions against Iran. Russia and China were appeased to get their agreement to mild measures that did nothing to influence Iran. Even worse, the tough sanctions that were finally pushed through over Obama’s objections by Congress and European allies that were more eager to take on the Iranians than Washington were not only too late but also not fully enforced. Though the Iranian economy has been hurt by the measures, their oil continues to flow to foreign buyers whose cash continues to find its way to the ayatollah’s coffers. As Haaretz reports today, even after all the talk about crippling sanctions, the Untied States finds itself having to try to pass new rules to cope with the fact that the existing laws haven’t stopped the Iranians from circumventing the restrictions.
Though all we hear from the administration and its apologists is about how tough the sanctions are, the fact remains that:
The new penalties will not apply to countries that have been granted “exceptions,” or waivers, to the sanctions because they have significantly cut their purchases of Iranian oil.
The United States this year issued 180-day waivers for all of Iran’s major crude buyers. This month it renewed waivers for Japan and 10 EU countries, while exceptions for China and India are due to be reviewed in coming months.
All the while the Iranian centrifuges keep spinning. The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that the number of these machines has doubled and they are now being stored underground in facilities that may not be vulnerable to attack. And their stockpile of enriched uranium continues to grow.
Four years of Obama’s policies have brought Iran to what may be the brink of a nuclear weapon with little, if any, time left to stop them by the use of force. The Iranians have ruthlessly exploited the president’s self-regard and his blind faith in diplomacy and international institutions. Far from being a mixed record, this is one of unmitigated failure.
Should he be re-elected, Obama has talked himself into a position where he is likely to face a stark choice between using force on Iran or backing down on his pledges. Nothing he has done in his four years gives anyone without blind faith in him any confidence that he will do the former rather than the latter.