Obama and Iran

Whatever misgivings exist in Washington, they need to be discussed with Israel in private and not aired in a manner that engenders glee in Tehran.

Hajizadeh and downed US drone_311 (photo credit: FARS)
Hajizadeh and downed US drone_311
(photo credit: FARS)
At a time in which at the very least Iran ought to be made to feel the stinging effects of international ostracism and sanctions, it was given a public relations boon by no less than the American president. The ayatollahs’ regime seized upon it with exultant relish and laughed gloatingly out loud.
The message sent to the people of the Middle East in general, and especially to the discontented masses in Iran, isn’t heartening. America, and in its tow the Free World, was made to look incompetent. In this region preposterous images inflict decisive damage.
President Barack Obama couldn’t in all likelihood prevent whichever malfunction it was that brought a US stealth drone down over Iranian territory. That was a super-embarrassment in itself. Not only was America’s unmanned spy activity foiled and exposed to all and sundry, but cutting-edge technology fell into the unfriendliest of hands. Still, in theory, this could happen to anyone.
But what took place after that initial embarrassment could have been prevented. It shouldn’t have been beyond American capabilities to destroy the downed drone, and deny Iran an invaluable psychological victory and access to state-of-the-art intelligence gathering mechanisms.
But the crisis-management failure didn’t end there.
The leader of the world’s sole superpower inexplicably humbled himself before Tehran’s theocrats and asked that they please give him his drone back.
If he couldn’t sound tough, and credibly so, he should have said nothing. Instead, Obama last week not only acknowledged that Iran has his drone, but he told reporters at a White House press conference alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that “we have asked for it [the drone] back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond.”
How did Obama expect them to respond? It’s not as if the US and Iran are friends. It’s obvious that the drone didn’t accidentally violate Iranian airspace but that it was on a spying mission. This wouldn’t predispose the rogue regime in Tehran to acquiesce to Obama’s polite request.
Moreover, the drone mission came against a tension- charged backdrop in which the US has no diplomatic relations with Iran and is tightening economic sanctions on Iran in a last ditch effort to derail its nuclear project.
Given all that, why would Obama risk looking silly by openly appealing to Tehran to return his spy contraption? This isn’t Obama’s first egregious faux pas on Iran.
In 2009, following Iran’s rigged election, thousands took to the streets in defiance. As pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in Tehran, Obama advised that “it’s important to understand that, although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and [opposition presidential candidate Mirhossein] Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great advertised.”
The subtext was that Obama took no sides precisely when taking sides mattered the most. “I take a wait-and-see approach... It’s not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling in Iranian elections,” he said. All his later efforts at course-correction were too little, too late.
The perception he created was unfortunate. Perceptions are sometimes the name of the game in this region.
When Obama administration headliners, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, publicly caution Israel against a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, another unfortunate perception is produced.
Intentional or not, the impression is that Washington has tied Israel’s hands and that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has less to fear.
Whatever misgivings exist in Washington, they need to be discussed with Israel in private and not aired in a manner that engenders glee in Tehran.
This is no time to build up the ayatollahs’ confidence.
This is no time to count on their reasonableness or to give them breathing space. This is no time for the US president to publicly make requests he knows will be contemptuously rejected.