On October 25, Ambassador Dennis Ross — among other things, the National Security Council’s czar for Iranian matters — spoke in Florida to an AIPAC conference. It’s worth paying attention when Ross speaks, because he’s one of the best practitioners of the diplomatic arts, and, having done this sort of thing for several administrations, he is always very careful. His words are canonical; you don’t have to wonder if he didn’t mean precisely what he said or whether he is at cross purposes with his president.
His Florida speech can therefore be taken as one of the clearest and most authoritative efforts to defend the administration’s Iran policy, and warrants our serious attention.
He began with a false claim that Obama’s outreach to the Iranian regime is something new. “The first step…was making an unmistakable offer of engagement to the Iranians to show their government — and the rest of the international community — that we were committed to resolving our long-standing differences with Iran through peaceful diplomacy on the basis of mutual respect. We recognized that during the years of not talking, Iran significantly expanded its nuclear program and sowed its breed of terror and coercion across the region.”
This is the administration’s central myth about Obama and Iran. In reality, there were no “years of not talking.” The Bush years were full of talking, culminating in an embarrassing failure. Secretary of State Rice went to the United Nations to await the promised arrival of a high level Iranian delegation that she expected would sign an agreement with the United States. Iran would stop enriching uranium, and America would lift sanctions. But the delegation never arrived.
This was only the latest in a 30-year run of failed “peaceful diplomacy on the basis of mutual respect.” Every president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama has tried it, and all have failed, even the current crowd, as Ross admits just a few words later: “Iran’s own behavior over the past two years…has demonstrated that it prefers defiance and secrecy to transparency and peace.”
Ross continued, “Iran continues to rely on tactics of intimidation and coercion to gain influence, a pattern clearly on display during President Ahmadinejad’s provocative recent visit to Lebanon and through Iran’s ongoing support for Hizballah.”
Quite right. But he doesn’t go nearly far enough. It’s not just a matter of “intimidation and coercion.” The central issue is NOT Iranian diplomatic recalcitrance; it’s the murder of American soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
And that is the issue that nobody — not national security officials, not members of Congress, not pundits — wants to talk about. They avoid it with a remarkable single-mindedness, because to acknowledge it means having to respond forcefully, and no president for more than 30 years has been willing to do that.
It’s the poisonous turd in the diplomatic punchbowl, and it infuriates our fighting men and women, who know full well who’s blowing up their brothers and sisters. And even some of their top brass — from Admiral Mullen atop the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Gates and all too many service secretaries and commanders — tiptoe delicately around the defining issue of the war. Whatever their private convictions, they are not about to risk their careers by publicly challenging their commander-in-chief.
As for Dennis Ross and his cohorts in the White House and Foggy Bottom, they send birthday greetings to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: