The Region: F for failure

Europeans ready to get tough on Iran, but Obama is showing no leadership.

By BARRY RUBIN
January 25, 2010 05:28
4 minute read.
US President Barack Obama.

US President Barack Obama.. (photo credit: AP)



We must now face an extremely unpleasant truth: Even giving the Obama administration every possible break regarding its Iran policy, it is now clear that the US government isn't going to take strong action on the nuclear weapons issue. Note that I didn't even say "effective" action, I'm saying that it isn't even going to make a good show of trying seriously to do anything.



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Some say that the administration has secretly or implicitly accepted the idea that Iran will get nuclear weapons and is now seeking some longer-term containment policy. I doubt that has happened. It is just not even this close to reality.



From its behavior, it still seems to expect, incredibly, that some kind of deal is possible with Teheran despite everything that has happened. Then, too, it may hope that the opposition - unaided by America - will overthrow the Iranian government and thus solve the problem. And it is too fixated on short-term games about seeking consensus among other powers; two of them - China and Russia - are clearly not going to agree to anything serious. This fact was clear many months ago, but the administration still doesn't recognize it.



Not only is the Obama administration failing the test but it is doing so in a way that seems to maximize the loss of US credibility in the region and the world. A lot of this comes from the administration's philosophy of unprecedented concepts of guilt, apology, defeatism and refusal to take leadership never seen before among past liberal Democratic governments from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton.



Yet the British, French and Germans are ready to get tough on Iran, yearning for leadership and not getting it.



All of this is watered down in media coverage, focused on day-to-day developments and swallowing many of the administration's excuses plus its endlessly repeated rhetoric that action is on the way. When the history of this absurdly failed effort is written, the story will be a shocking one.



IT WAS totally predictable that the Iranian government would not make a deal. It was totally predictable that Russia and China weren't going to go along with tougher sanctions. It was totally predictable that a failure by the US to take the leadership on the matter and instead depend on consensus would lead to paralysis. And it is totally predictable that a bungled diplomatic effort will produce an even more aggressive Iranian policy along with crisis and violence.



First, the administration set a September deadline for instituting increased sanctions and then, instead of following a two-track strategy of engagement alongside pressure, postponed doing anything while in talks with Iran.



Second, it refused to take advantage of the regime's international unpopularity and growing opposition demonstrations due to the alleged rigged June election for the presidency. On the contrary, it assured the Iranian regime it would not do so.



Third, the administration set a December deadline should engagement fail, then refused to recognize it had failed and did nothing. It is the failure even to try to meet this time limit by implementing some credible action that has crossed the line, triggered the point of no return.



Fourth, the US government kept pretending that it was somehow convincing the Chinese and Russians to participate, while there was never any chance of this happening. Indeed, this was clear from statements repeatedly made by leaders of both countries. Now, this duo has sabotaged the process without any cost inflicted by the US while making clear they will continue doing so.



Fifth, high-ranking US officials still speak of their continued eagerness to engage Iran and mention at least six months more of discussion efforts before anything is done about sanctions.



Sixth, the administration now defines sanctions as overwhelmingly focused on the Revolutionary Guards, who it cannot hurt economically, thus signaling to the Iranian regime that it will do nothing effective to hurt the country's economy. This means that even if and when sanctions are increased, they will be toothless.



All of these steps tell Iran's regime: full speed ahead on building nuclear weapons; repress your opponents brutally and the US will do nothing.



After these six failures, the US is now - in effect - resting. And that is the seventh failure. There are no signs that anything is changing in Washington.



To believe that the administration has learned anything, we would have to see the following: An angry US government which feels that Iran's regime made it look foolish; a calculating administration that believes the American people want it to get tough and gain politically from being seen as decisive; a great power strategy that would make an example of Iran to show what happens to a bunch of repressive dictators who defy the US and spit on its friends and interests; and a diplomatically astute government that understands the uses of threats and pressure to force its opponent into a compromise.



There is not the slightest indication that the Obama administration holds any of these views. On the contrary, without any apparent realization of the absurdity of the situation, high-ranking officials keep repeating in January 2010 as in January 2009 that, some day, the US might do something to put pressure on Iran. Perhaps those in the administration who do understand what's wrong don't have the influence to affect the policy being set in the White House.



This is going to be a case study of how failing to deal with a problem sooner, even if that requires some diplomatic confrontations, will lead to a much bigger and costlier conflict later involving military confrontations.


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