The Region: Why does the US insist on playing Iran's game?

The Region Why does the

By BARRY RUBIN
November 1, 2009 22:12
4 minute read.

 
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The great experiment of engaging Iran seems to be over but the Obama administration refuses to admit it. This shouldn't come as a surprise. As the Iranian regime's record shows, it stalls, maneuvers, gives vague promises and then doesn't deliver, but only after it's taken your concessions. Do you know how many years the talks with Iran have gone on without yielding fruit and letting Teheran develop nuclear weapons every day? Answer: Seven. Do you know when the "deadline" originally was for Iran to stop its nuclear program "or else"? Answer: Approximately September 2007. But the Obama administration doesn't want to admit that the new Iranian counteroffer is unacceptable because it would have to give up its dreams of a deal and actually do something in response. Even The New York Times headlined its story: "Iran Rejects Nuclear Accord, Officials Report." The sober Financial Times stated, "Teheran seeks big changes to nuclear deal." And Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, known for being soft on Iran, reportedly told the Iranians that their counteroffer was unacceptable. The Washington Post noted: "The long-awaited Iranian answer appeared to dash hopes that Teheran would be willing to quickly embrace engagement with the West on its nuclear program. Obama administration officials will now need to assess whether engagement has run its course - and whether to shift toward tougher sanctions." The issue concerns Iran's response to a proposal that it would transfer two-thirds of its enriched uranium outside the country to make into a special non-weapons material that can only be used for medical purposes. Of course, even the deal offered to Iran is not so great from the standpoint of those likely to be the targets of Iranian weapons or enhanced international influence for Teheran if it possesses nuclear arms. For example, "neutralized" uranium can be changed back into weapons-usable uranium in about four months or so. Moreover, Iran's concealed enriched uranium could still be used to build nuclear weapons. AFTER INTERVIEWING officials, the Financial Times reports that the Europeans are ready to reject Iran's demands now as "unacceptable" but the United States is, "more willing to show patience than either Britain [or] France." Why is the US government so eager to keep playing Teheran's game? Here are two answers: • President Barack Obama's worldview insists that all problems are resolvable by talking and making concessions. He also fears confrontation. • The desire to keep Russia on board. But we know Russia won't support sanctions and serious pressure on Iran. Moscow wants America to fail internationally and views Iran as an ally. So America's policy is being held hostage by a president with no experience and little understanding of international affairs, a set of ideas making failure inevitable, trying to please a country which is an ally of the adversary and misestimating a dictatorial regime with boundless ambitions and tremendous self-confidence. What a mess. But how long into 2010 can they spin this before Washington is going to have to recognize that talks are going nowhere? The US government fallback position once Iran gets nuclear weapons, "containment," also poses significant problems. A typical explication comes from Gen. John Abizaid who commanded US forces in the region between 2003 and 2007: "The historical evidence would suggest that Iran is not a suicide state. So it's my military belief that Iran can be deterred." There are three problems with this overall strategy. First, containment requires high levels of US credibility. That means Iran's regime must believe that aggression will bring US retaliation up to using nuclear weapons itself. Will President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime tremble before Obama? Equally important, Arab states must believe very firmly that the US is a reliable protector. Can they think this of Obama's administration? They don't want to hear that he loves Islam and the Palestinians; they want to know he'll fight. And doubting this, they'll appease Iran. Second, while on balance it seems Iran won't commit suicide, would you bet your life on it? This regime is the closest thing to a non-rational state you're going to see. And suppose Iran's rulers believe they have a way around the "suicide" problem by handing weapons to a "deniable" terrorist group or just using them for blackmail, or if a faction within the regime is willing to take greater risks than the consensus in Teheran? The idea that extremist fanaticism, or pure miscalculation, or a small crazed faction would lead to nuclear war is a realistic proposition even if it isn't the leading scenario. Remember that the nuclear weapons will be controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the most fanatical elements and those who work with terrorist groups. And then there's Iran's minister of defense, a wanted terrorist in his own right. Third, and perhaps ultimately most important, Iran's increased power in having nuclear weapons will not consist merely of firing them off. Aside from far higher levels of Arab and European appeasement will be the huge leap in the appeal of a seemingly mighty Iran and victorious Islamism to millions of Muslims who will join or support radical Islamist groups. Instability in the Arab world and terrorism in Europe can be expected to skyrocket as a result. To pretend then that Iran's possession of nuclear weapons will be neutralized by US guarantees is a fantasy. That's why it is so important to stop Iran from ever obtaining nuclear weapons. If this does not happen, as appears likely, the entire strategic balance will change against Western interests. Remember that the original containment strategy was developed by the US based on the premise that the USSR would dominate an entire region: Eastern Europe. In the late 1940s there wasn't a choice. Today, there still is. But nothing can even begin to happen until the US concludes that the Iranian regime has just shown that it doesn't want any real deal that precludes it from becoming a nuclear power.

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