There’s no better indicator of which direction conventional wisdom about foreign policy will take than Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria, whose efforts are split between CNN, TIME magazine and the Washington Post, is the man to consult when you want to know what liberals and establishment types are thinking. So his column in the Post this week calling for another round of engagement with Iran is a worrisome signal the bi-partisan consensus behind a policy of isolating the Islamic Republic and forcing it to give up its nuclear ambitions is on its last legs.
The fact that Barack Obama already tried engagement and proved it a dismal failure doesn’t bother Zakaria, because he isn’t particularly interested in either replacing the Islamist tyranny or stopping them from gaining nuclear capability. But the point here isn’t so much the weak arguments that he and other Iranian apologists have been making for years about Iran’s promises not to build nukes or even the moderation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Coming as it does on the eve of a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency that will outline the worrisome progress Iran has made toward military applications of its nuclear program, the Zakaria article must be seen as the first volley in an effort to influence Washington to back off rather than to press for sterner sanctions. Even more to the point, it may be a warning sign of where a second Obama administration might be heading on the issue of Iran.
It is difficult to see how any rational person could possibly still think engagement with Iran would work. As even Zakaria admits, it was precisely this idea of reaching out that characterized the first year of the Obama administration’s policy on Iran. But, contrary to the expectations of the president, the magical power of his personality didn’t melt the hearts of the ayatollahs. They played Obama and his foreign policy team for patsies, stringing them along the same way they had done previously with the French and German emissaries who George W. Bush had sent on the same fool’s errand.
The result was so obvious that even Obama recognized he had been wrong. He then reversed course and opted to try and build an international coalition for sanctions on Iran. That half-hearted campaign has left Iran weakened economically, but because it is still protected from draconian sanctions that could alter the equation by Russia and China, it is still busily working with the time Obama has gifted them to get closer to their nuclear goal.
Zakaria seems to blame it all on the democracy activists who took to the streets of Tehran in the summer of 2009 after a stolen election. He thinks the spectacle of the regime’s thugs slaughtering people in the street distracted Obama who, though he failed to support the dissidents, then lapsed into a policy of pressure rather than doubling down on appeasement.
But like all bad ideas floated by liberals, support for engagement with Iran won’t die a natural death. Iranian nukes would make both that tyranny and its Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist allies an even greater threat to the region. But unlike the diplomacy that has failed to bring them to reason, a serious set of sanctions that would down trade with Iran has never been tried or implemented. The only way to avoid a confrontation that will make the use of force unavoidable is to do so now, though it may already be too late.
It has long been apparent there is more support for Zakaria’s plan for appeasement in Washington than the tough talk we sometimes hear from the president or Secretary of State Clinton. This administration has already shown it hasn’t the heart or the resolve to get tough with Iran. It’s not likely that Obama will return to “engagement” while he’s running for re-election, but a second term might prove a different story.