In January, Max Boot wrote about the unfortunate decision of the administration to push out one of the country’s top soldiers: Marine General James Mattis, the head of the nation’s crucial Central Command. As Max said, it appeared that “the White House does not appreciate his blunt advice and thinks he is too hawkish on Iran.” Yesterday, we got a good example of the blunt advice Mattis has been offering up when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee “sanctions and diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities are not working”:
General James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran has a history of denial and deceit and is enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose. While it may still be possible to use sanctions and other pressure to bring Tehran to its senses, he added, Iran is using the negotiations to buy time.
Mattis is obviously right about what has happened in the last decade as the United States wasted time on foolish attempts at engagement, weak diplomacy and loosely enforced sanctions as the Iranians ran out the clock, getting closer every day to realizing their nuclear ambition. But the question that should be on the minds of Americans is whether the people who showed the general the door understand this commonsense evaluation.
Earlier this week, Vice President Biden articulated what might have been the most bellicose expression of administration sentiment toward Iran. He told the annual AIPAC conference that President Obama’s reliance on diplomacy and sanctions was justified, because it would allow the United States to say it had done everything to avoid war if the moment came when force must be used to prevent Tehran from going nuclear. But that stand was undermined by what transpired last week in Almaty, Kazakhstan when the P5+1 group met for the latest round of talks with the Iranians.
At those talks, the Western powers made concessions to the Iranians, saying they would allow them to keep their nuclear plant at Fordow open and that they could continue to refine uranium. Just as bad, they made it clear that if Iran would agree to suspend some of its nuclear activities, some of the sanctions that had been put into place so slowly and with such difficulty would be lifted.
Though the Iranians were clearly pleased by this retreat, they didn’t agree to the terms since they quite understandably believe they can do even better by continuing to stonewall the West. It must be understood that such a stand is an invitation for the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon since the terms of such an accord would give them plenty of latitude to evade the restrictions–much as the North Koreans have done.
The point is not just that, as General Mattis has rightly noted, diplomacy and sanctions have failed up until this point, but that by signing on to the strategy being employed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton—the leader of the P5+1 group—the administration is doubling down on that failure and locking itself into a process that may ensure that it will be impossible to stop the Iranians.
It is to be hoped that Biden’s bluster represents the genuine sentiments of the president and that it shows he is thinking clearly about the necessity to act before it is too late. But the continued support for more diplomacy and the insistence that sanctions will eventually do the trick may betray a very different mindset.
President Obama is clearly a person who has little patience for opposing views, so it is no surprise that General Mattis will soon leave office. In his absence, it isn’t clear who will continue to tell the president truths that he doesn’t want to hear or whether the tough talk about Iran will continue to be given the lie by more diplomatic surrenders.