PART I: WAITING TO SEE: OBAMA HAS STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO ACCEPT THE IRANIAN BOMB.
Pres. Barack Obama has decided to let Iran acquire nuclear arms. Unless Israel acts in self-defense against the president's wishes, the world's most dangerous regime will command the world's most dangerous weapon.
Notwithstanding the White House's misinformation campaign to the contrary, the evidence of the president's agenda is incontrovertible.
Number one. Obama knows that the U.N. will not prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb. In June 2003 the International Atomic Energy Agency first reported that Iran was breaching its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Six years and five minimalist Security Council resolutions later, the adoption of serious sanctions by the council remains a non-starter. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said in early July that more sanctions would be "counter-productive." The Tehran Times reported on July 28 that the Iranian nuclear plant at Bushehr — built by Russia's nuclear-power corporation and completed in March — will be operational by the end of September. The latest development in burgeoning Chinese-Iranian ties was an Iranian July 13 announcement that China has agreed to invest $40 billion to increase Iran's gasoline-refining capacity — a move that would hardly be an incentive to buy into new sanctions.
Number two. Heavy-duty sanctions imposed beyond the U.N. would require a serious and prompt push by the E-3 — France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. But Germany has other priorities. In May, the Iranians were able to coo, "around 50 German firms have their own branch offices in Iran and more than 12,000 firms have trade representatives in the country. . . . With some $5.5 billion annual trade, Germany is Iran's major European trading partner and the third worldwide." Not surprisingly, on July 2, German chancellor Angela Merkel championed "keeping open the possibility of talks on Iran's nuclear program." British foreign secretary David Miliband described the EU hurry-up-and-wait preference while in Washington on July 29: "I think it's very important to say that on the important nuclear question, the ball is in Iran's court. And as soon as the new government is formed in Tehran, we look forward to that government addressing . . . the clear package that was put to Iran some 15 or 16 months ago."
Number three. President Obama himself is refusing to back strong, immediate sanctions in response to Iran's umpteen violations of the NPT and human rights. On the contrary, after the July 10 G-8 meeting, he declared: "This notion that we were trying to get sanctions . . . is not accurate." Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated on July 27 that sanctions are still not on Obama's agenda. All he could say was that "if the engagement process is not successful, the United States is prepared to press for significant additional sanctions."
Number four. Obama's only concrete plan for dealing with what even Gates has called "the greatest current threat to global security" is more talk. Without an end date. On May 18, Obama declared that deadlines would be "artificial." This is how he explained the snail's pace: "My expectation would be that if we can begin discussions soon, shortly after the Iranian elections, we should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction. . . . That doesn't mean every issue would be resolved by that point." On July 10, the president said: "We will take stock of Iran's progress when we see each other this September at the G20 meeting." On July 27 in Israel, Gates explained it this way: "I think that the president is certainly anticipating or hoping for some kind of response this fall, perhaps by the time of the U.N. General Assembly." So here's the Obama plan: Maybe by the end of the year he will have some idea sort of where he is going, and in the meantime he is keeping his fingers crossed and looking forward to stock-taking.
Worse, the potential year-end review of the yakkety-yak policy was based on the premise that the yakking had already started. On May 18, the president maintained that the Iranian "elections will be completed in June, and we are hopeful that, at that point, there is going to be a serious process of engagement." Two months of silence later, on July 23, Secretary Clinton admitted: "Well, we haven't had any response. So we've certainly reached out. We've made it clear that that's what we would be willing to do even now."
Clinton has spun Iranian dithering not as an abysmal American miscalculation of Iranian interests but as a result of the mullahs' being too busy. While in Bangkok on July 22 and 23 she pontificated: "The door is open to what we would like to see as a one-on-one engagement with Iran. But they are so preoccupied right now." And again: "The internal debates going on within Iran have made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to pursue any diplomatic engagement. . . . I don't think that they have any capacity to make that kind of decision right now." Yes, brutal suppression takes time — but somehow, finding the hours and capacity for enriching uranium hasn't been a problem.
Number five. No amount of butchery by Iran's government has had any effect on Obama's enthusiasm for breaking bread with the regime. Widely denounced show trials for more than 100 people began August 1. Agence France-Presse reported August 1 that 2,000 people had initially been arrested and 250 remain behind bars. U.S. and U.K. papers reported on July 29 that Tehran hospitals registered 34 bodies of protesters on June 20 alone, while 150 corpses have been counted in hospitals. New stories of torture surface regularly, with the New York Times reporting on July 28 that "some prisoners say they watched fellow detainees being beaten to death by guards in overcrowded, stinking holding pens."
So while Iranians are still taking to the streets to reject the regime's legitimacy — chanting "Neda isn't dead, the regime is" in response to the shooting death of civilian Neda Agha-Soltan — Obama's overtures are sending the opposite message. On June 15 he said: "We will continue to pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries, and we'll see where it takes us." On June 23 he reiterated: "There is a path available to Iran in which their sovereignty is respected, their traditions, their culture, their faith is respected. . . . We don't know how they're going to respond yet, and that's what we're waiting to see." Evidently, it never occurs to Obama that what makes his desired interlocutors criminals also decimates their capacity to conduct genuine dialogue, let alone keep any promises made.
Number six. With nothing moving "in the right direction" — no genuine dialogue, no legitimate counterpart, no hope of a tough U.N. resolution, no strong sanctions in place or in sight — Obama has attempted to take military action off the table for both Israel and the United States. On July 7, CNN asked the president if the U.S. had given Israel a green light for a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear sites, to which he responded, "absolutely not." Last week Obama followed up by dispatching to Jerusalem a parade of emissaries instructed to make the same point — carrying no shame about bullying a democratic ally on a matter of its life and death.
As for U.S. action, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak prompted Defense Secretary Gates on July 27 to keep "all options on the table." Gates's non-response to the plea said it all. On July 16 Gates, speaking in oblique terms about the military option, declared: "If something is done to prevent them [Iran] from getting one, the consequences of that are . . . very bad" — as bad or worse, he intimated, as the consequences of Iran actually getting the bomb. His reasoning was unlikely to have soothed Israelis: "Iran's going to have the capability to deliver nuclear weapons to the people in their region a lot sooner than they're going to have the capability to deliver them to us."
Number seven. In late July while in Thailand, Secretary Clinton spelled out a promise of a U.S. defense shield that would accompany the Iranian acquisition of a nuclear bomb. "We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment, that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region. . . . [Iran] won't be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon." Discussing plans for a post-Iranian nuclear world at this juncture would not occur if the administration's policy were to prevent it from happening, period.
Number eight. The Iranians know a blowhard when they see one. As columnist Amir Taheri notes, an Iranian newspaper with close ties to the government editorialized on July 26 that Obama doesn't have the stomach for a major confrontation with Iran: "The Obama administration is prepared to accept the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. . . . They have no long-term plan for dealing with Iran. . . . Their strategy consists of begging us to talk with them." In other words, Iran has called Obama's bluff.
Iran is not the only one with Obama's number. Israel, Russia, China, France, Germany, and Great Britain all know. This president has accepted a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama can label it anything he likes: "waiting to see," "hoping for a response," "taking stock," "remaining ready to engage," standing by until the "preoccupation" with oppression ends, "pressing" others to allow "additional sanctions." But it all amounts to the same thing.
Unless Israel exercises its right of self-defense and decides to risk the wrath of President Obama as the lesser of two evils, there will be an Iranian nuclear bomb. Courtesy of Barack Obama.
PART II: A RECIPE FOR EVEN MORE DELAY ON IRAN
US President Barack Obama will not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This is the stark reality facing Israeli decision-makers, who will be forced to risk the ire of a deeply hostile president if the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb is to be derailed.
No doubt the Obama administration claims to be worried, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates stating on July 16 that an Iranian bomb is "the greatest current threat to global security." But the same administration has no plan to ensure that the threat does not materialize — and is attempting to ensure that Israel doesn't either.
The Iranians have already called Obama's bluff. An Iranian newspaper referred to the American agenda on July 26 this way: "[T]he Obama administration is prepared to accept the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran... They have no long-term plan for dealing with Iran... Their strategy consists of begging us to talk with them."
The president's stance on Iran, and what it says about his anti-Israel bias, cannot be wished away. On August 3 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the eviction of two Palestinian families illegally living in Jerusalem homes "deeply regrettable," but politely asked Iran for help in locating "the whereabouts of the three missing Americans" — that Iran had taken hostage — "and return[ing] them as quickly as possible." This is an administration more worried about ensuring a Judenrein future Palestinian state (settlements being only the tip of the iceberg) than ensuring the safety of the Jewish state or preventing the dramatic shift in the balance of power that will come with an Iranian nuclear weapon.
With President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sworn into office this week, it is critical that Obama's Iran scheme be in the open. Here are the elements of the "begging us to talk with them" syndrome.
Engagement is the watchword, and it has no expiry date. In May, Obama declared that deadlines would be "artificial," and spoke only of having "a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction." In July the President said "we will take stock of Iran's progress" at the G20 meeting in late September. On July 27, Gates told Jerusalem: "I think the president is certainly anticipating or hoping for some kind of response this fall, perhaps by the time of the UN General Assembly." All of which is a recipe for delay.
The daily barbarism on the streets of Teheran has not shaken Obama off the engagement course. The administration has decided to accept the legitimacy of President Ahmadinejad as the rightful Iranian interlocutor, notwithstanding three new American hostages, the fraudulent election, the show trials under way, the torture of pro-democracy advocates, the detained, the dead and the disappeared. At the end of July, all Clinton had to say was: "We've certainly reached out. We've made it clear that that's what we would be willing to do even now."
The much-vaunted engagement, however, hasn't even started. The excuses abound. In Clinton's words in Bangkok at the end of July: "The door is open to what we would like to see as a one-on-one engagement with Iran. But they are so preoccupied right now. The internal debates going on within Iran have made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to pursue any diplomatic engagement... I don't think they have any capacity to make that kind of decision right now."
Or as Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley put it a day later: "We'll have to wait and see where Iran is... Obviously, right now, the government has its hands full."
In effect, the administration is giving Iran a time-out for brutality.
In the meantime, there is no American push for tough immediate sanctions in response to Iran's massive violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and human rights. On the contrary, Obama declared in July: "This notion that we were trying to get sanctions... is not accurate."
Gates confirmed no sanctions yet on July 27: "If the engagement process is not successful, the United States is prepared to press for significant additional sanctions." On August 3, Clinton managed only: "In the absence of some positive response from the Iranian government, the international community will consult about next steps, and certainly next steps can include certain sanctions."
If and when the administration reverses course on sanctions, its first stop will be the UN. It will start by begging the Security Council for another resolution with "significant" sanctions. Except that nobody believes the Security Council will deliver. More than six years ago the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency found Iran was violating the NPT. And here we are on the brink of disaster five trivial resolutions later.
Russia and China, with major and growing investments in Iran, have already made their objections clear. In July, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressly labeled more sanctions "counterproductive." After wasting more time at the UN over resolution number six, Americans may claim they can get the job done outside the UN in concert with the E-3 — France, the United Kingdom and Germany. But Germany has $5.6 billion in trade annually with Iran, making it the country's largest European trading partner and the third largest worldwide. Not surprisingly, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in July that she prefers "keeping open the possibility of talks on Iran's nuclear program."
Or as British Foreign Secretary David Miliband explained Britain's hurry-up-and-wait foreign policy on July 29: "On the important nuclear question, the ball is in Iran's court... [W]e look forward to that government addressing... the clear package that was put to Iran some 15 or 16 months ago."
By the time the sanctions route finally takes hold in the administration's imagination — and those of its allies — it would be foolhardy to assume that design, implementation and evaluation will proceed at a rate sufficient to beat the nuclear clock.
In short, Obama's Iran policy has two prongs. Set a snail's pace on engagement and sanctions. And send waves of brass-knuckled emissaries to Jerusalem in an effort to take military action off the table.
The only question now is whether Obama's fundamental disrespect for Jewish self-determination will convince Israel not to take the military steps necessary to forestall an Iranian nuclear bomb. If it does, Ahmadinejad's reign of terror will have only just begun.
Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute and the editor of EYEontheUN.org
EYEontheUN monitors the UN direct from UN Headquarters in New York. EYEontheUN brings to light the real UN record on the key threats to democracy, human rights, and peace and security in our time. EYEontheUN provides a unique information base for the re-evaluation of priorities and directions for modern-day democratic societies.
This article was published as two separate essays. Part I appeared August 3, 2009 in National Review Online
Part II appeared August 6, 2009 in the Jerusalem Post,