Know Comment: Sham smiles all around

Decoupling allows Obama to smile and sell sham narratives about Iran, even as Khamenei rebuffs and humiliates America.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
With four deadlines come and gone, it’s probably safe to predict that there won’t be a grand package deal with Tehran this weekend, or at all. Instead, we’ll get a lot of smiles, and agreement to continue talking indefinitely, “for as long as the talks are useful,” without closure on Iran’s nuclear weapons drive.
Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei’s centrifuges will continue to spin, Iran’s adventurism in the region will proceed unchecked, and President Obama won’t have to reveal to Congress the deep concessions he has already deposited in Iran’s pocket.
American analyst Michael Ledeen puts it bluntly: Khamenei doesn’t want to sign anything. He has two fixed principles: No “new relationship” with the Great Satan, and relentless pursuit of the atomic bomb. But since Obama won’t take an Iranian “no” for a definitive answer, the default American position will be a new form of “creative appeasement.”
Iran will promise to try really, really hard to be nice, and Obama will pay for this. Iran will continue to get its monthly sanctions relief payoff, while Obama will get Iranian smiles.
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 Smiles are important, especially those broad and beautiful smiles flashed by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and reciprocated by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
This will allow Obama to give another interview in which he blathers about meeting Iran’s “legitimate needs and concerns” and about his hopes that Iran will become “a very successful regional power.” After all, Obama will yet tell us, Iran “is one of the oldest and grandest civilizations in the world” – or something obsequious like that.
Who could have imagined, just a few years ago, that the president of the United States of America would wish the mullahs well in their quest for regional hegemony? What strategic thinker would have believed that the US would actively enter a de facto alliance with Shi’ite Iran (in Iraq, Syria and the Gulf) at the expense of America’s traditional Sunni allies and its ally in Israel? The metamorphosis of Iran, in pro-Obama elite opinion circles, from terrorist state into US partner is a long-brewing triumph for a certain set of pro-Iranian apologists and anti-Israel lobbyists in Washington.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal this week, Sohrab Ahmari showed how the National Iranian American Council advanced the argument that Iran deserves strategic respect, and placed its people in the Obama National Security Council.
Indeed, US think tanks played a prominent role in paving the way toward a climb-down from Obama’s declared policy of halting Iran’s nuclear drive.
Start with Thomas R. Pickering, the former under secretary of state for political affairs (and US ambassador to Russia, the UN and Israel), who showed up in Israel in 2012 as the head of “The Iran Project.” Peddling a “nuanced and sophisticated” view of Iran, he counseled an “engagement” strategy.
In a lecture at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Pickering asserted that the US must end its confrontation with Iran over nuclear weapons. Sanctions, he said, were only “contributing to an increase in repression and corruption within Iran,” and were “sowing the seeds of longterm alienation between the Iranian people and the US.” What about the use of military force to crush the Iranian nuclear bomb program? Well, military force should be the very last resort taken by the US, Pickering told us, “and probably not at all.”
Next was the Center for a New American Security.
Its 2013 report, primarily authored by former Obama administration deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East Colin H. Kahl, outlined “a comprehensive framework to manage and mitigate the consequences of a nuclear- armed Iran.” In other words, stopping the Iranian nuclear effort was already a passé discussion.
Then came the Atlantic Council, which called for Washington to “lessen the chances for war through reinvigorated diplomacy that offers Iran a realistic and face-saving way out of the nuclear standoff.” That’s diplomatic-speak for a containment strategy.
Then the Rand Corporation concluded that a nuclear-armed Iran would not pose a fundamental threat to the US and its regional allies. “An Iran with nuclear weapons will still be a declining power,” it said. “Iran does not have territorial ambitions and does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations.”
In his last article before dying in 2013, the leading realist theorist Ken Waltz of Columbia University even argued that Iran should get the bomb. It would create “a more durable balance of military power in the Middle East,” he wrote in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs.
The writing has been on the wall. Both Washington’s retreat from confrontation with Iran and its shift toward appeasement of Iran were there for those willing to see.
Obama has even invented a fancy term – “decoupling” – to obscure the magnitude of American collapse before Iran.
“Decoupling” means that the nuclear talks can take place in a virtual vacuum, without reference to Iranian behavior in any other field or arena – as if Iran were Iceland. There is just no coupling or link between Iran the nuclear power and Iran the aggressive adversary.
Decoupling means that Obama can be forgiven for failing to constrain Iranian terrorism. It means that Iran can get nuclear sanctions relief without having to scale back its hegemonic and subversive muckraking around the region.
The suave concept allows Obama to “decouple” the ayatollahs’ unpleasant anti-Semitic and genocidal rhetorical outbursts from Iran’s “responsible” (sic) understandings with the West on nuclear matters. It also allows Obama to ignore Iran’s human rights abuses.
Decoupling allows Obama to smile and sell sham narratives about Iran, even as Khamenei rebuffs and humiliates America. With a smile, of course.