A recipe for even more delay on Iran

The daily barbarism on the streets of Teheran has not shaken Obama off the engagement course.

Ahmadinejad inauguration 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
Ahmadinejad inauguration 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
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. The writer is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute and the editor of EYEontheUN.org