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Obama Overlooks Perils of Reaching Out to Iran

There is a certain sense of arrogance, of cowboyish élan that — under normal circumstances — the leftists of the world deride in American conservatives. It takes many forms, but generally it is manifested in the idea that if only the United States decided that something ought to be done, then it would eventually be accomplished. This “can do” attitude has led to grievous errors in judgment, they claim, ones which have cost the United States far more than they have benefited it.

Now these same leftists find themselves in the curious, unaccustomed position of being the ones seeking to accomplish something through sheer force of (good)will. I refer to the elusive goal of all Democrats since the Carter presidency: the normalization of diplomatic relations with Iran.

Sure, it may not involve men leaping out of helicopters to their doom, or Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire as they mouth anti-American epithets, but this passive form of adventurism still stands a particularly good chance of harming the United States’ interests, both at home and abroad. That harm has already begun to be felt in Iran, with the chief Iranian government spokesman (and renowned Holocaust denier), Gholam-Hossein Elham, responding to President Obama’s public peace feelers with contempt.

“This request means Western ideology has become passive, that capitalist thought and the system of domination have failed.”

I’m sure that President Obama means well in attempting to negotiate with the Iranians. The problem is, in the end result, what he intends doesn’t matter. In pursuing a soft line, he is bringing very real harm to the United States (most specifically in the realm of foreign relations) for one very important reason: credibility.

The United States is the world’s only superpower. As such, when it deigns to have its commander in chief speak directly to the heads of state of foreign nations, the foreign leaders and the regimes over which they preside are afforded a certain amount of credibility. If they weren’t credible, the leader of the free world wouldn’t be speaking to them (or so the rest of the world presumes). This has significant sub-effects which may not be immediately apparent to a president as inexperienced as Obama.

Firstly, in the case of unstable dictators ruling over despotic regimes (as Ahmadinejad and the current Iranian government can be charitably described) it has the “Munich Effect” of emboldening them. Most charismatic despots throughout history have led from behind a veneer of invulnerability. Hitler, Stalin, Mao — these men were not substantial individuals, either intellectually or physically. But they wielded an emotional control over those around them which was entirely dependent upon continued success. Had Hitler been seriously opposed in seizing the Rhineland, the Wehrmacht’s standing orders were to withdraw. But the troops were not opposed and this initial weakness of allied resolve was magnified tenfold at the later Munich Agreement, where Hitler’s aggressive leadership was given ultimate recognition — and credibility — by Neville Chamberlain. World War II was then made inevitable, chiefly by the allies’ eagerness to negotiate.

The second spin-off effect is the power that is gained through the de facto U.S. presidential recognition of the leader and the regime he rules over. In the case of Hitler, here was the chancellor of the once-broken nation of Germany, forcing the formerly victorious allies into a humbling agreement which had cost Germany nothing. Those within the Reich who may have doubted him at the time were thereafter persuaded to change their positions, or at least mute their criticisms. The exact same principle applies to Ahmadinejad and the belligerent state he leads. In drawing sniveling appeals from the president of the United States, he is entrenching himself and his party, consolidating their absolute grip on power.

The third effect of President Obama’s entreaties is the weakening of anti-establishment groups within Iran. Pro-democracy advocates lose credibility when the leader of the free world offers a free lunch to the men who are suppressing their efforts to bring about meaningful change in Iran. They lose the faith of their people. They also lose international regard and support, especially in terms of fundraising — the lifeblood of any political movement. One of the surest results of repeated calls for peace from Washington will be the successful repression of student dissent in the Iranian universities and anti-government opposition in remote areas.

The fourth unintended result of an over-reliance on diplomacy will be the devaluation of the United States’ image around the world. The act of going cap-in-hand to a known belligerent severely weakens the negotiating strength of the United States. Most of the world is not currently enjoying the blissful self-loathing of the postmodern West. They are immersed in the hardscrabble fight for daily survival, and view matters with a realist’s perspective. To them, negotiation is considered the last resort of a faltering competitor. To them, the idea of negotiating with a competitor who openly shows their weakness is laughable. Diplomacy, under such circumstances, fails.

The fifth and final consequence of unconsidered diplomacy is the increased likelihood of aggression and conflict. When dealing with a belligerent, it simply does not pay to show him all your cards and hope that he will treat you nicely in return. In the case of Iran, we see a regime which was borne on the back of one central tenet — loathing of the Shah and his ally, the United States. The Shah is now long gone, but the mullahs have remained in power by taking great pains to ensure that the specter of the “Great Satan” has never been allowed to lapse. If they ever truly succeed in convincing the general populace that the United States is no longer in a position to check their ambitions, it will be a grave day for the entire region.

I do not believe that President Obama means to weaken the United States or harm its interests. I do, however, strongly believe that he lacks the understanding necessary to adequately deal with Iran. If he is to do so, he must come to terms with the unalterable fact that Iran doesn’t seek peace with the United States. It doesn’t need peace and it certainly doesn’t desire it.

Why?  The Iranian regime has boxed itself into a corner when it comes to the Americans. They have spent decades educating their people on the inherent evil of the United States and engineering the Iranian state in opposition to that evil. Ideologically and theologically, the Iranian regime cannot continue in its present form and enjoy normalized relations with the United States. It’s simply not possible in the same way as it was impossible for the Taliban to engage in meaningful diplomatic and cultural exchange with the outside world. The mullahs can have their backward religious societal construct, or come to terms with the United States. It can’t have both. Ideology, theology, culture, and history — all of these elements which have shaped the present day nation of Iran were formed with a deliberate attempt to divorce them from any American influence. Starry-eyed optimism and naive pleas for peace won’t overcome them and offering an olive branch to the very men who want it least will only reduce the chances of someday enjoying fruitful relations with Iran.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of columnists who critique statesmen from the sidelines, but do so without being willing or able to offer any meaningful alternatives. In that spirit, I offer these humble suggestions to President Obama.

  • Bite back at Ahmadinejad and his spokesgoons. Don’t allow his attempts to capitalize on your goodwill go unanswered. Show him and the world that the United States has both the heart to build bridges and the pride that won’t allow it to be taken advantage. Make it clear that your efforts were extended to the people of Iran, not the regime of terror that rules and oppresses them.
  • Encourage and foster the pro-democracy groups in Iran. There are good, brave people in Iran who would risk everything to bring about real change in their country if they knew you had their back. They will do the heavy lifting, but a little support (both material and vocal) will go a long way. If possible, bring some of their leaders or representatives to the White House. Give them a stage and embolden the people who follow them.
  • Spurn all communication with the Iranian regime. As American credibility can be used negatively by the enemies of the United States, it can be a force for meaningful change. Attack Ahmadinejad whenever he says something hateful or stupid (which won’t be infrequent). Divorce him from his people at all times and reflect upon how bad a disservice he is doing them. Refuse to permit any kind of negotiations until the Iranians make major concessions, such as dismantling their nuclear weapons program and the conduct of free and fair elections.
  • Bring back the culture of risk in intelligence. Back in the day, the CIA wasn’t adverse to doing something reckless if it stood a good chance of harming the regimes that opposed the United States and its allies. Too many people in intelligence have become risk-adverse bureaucrats — give the men and women of the clandestine services some latitude and see if they can’t deliver a few new coups (literally or figuratively speaking).
  • Interdict the Iranian nuclear program. Sure, you’ll lose the love of Time magazine. But really, in a year’s time, aside from them, who will care?

The one thing we can least afford in regard to Iran is a continuance of the status quo. That will lead to a nuclear exchange in the Middle East and millions of dead Israelis and Iranians.

You have tried the carrot, Mr. President. Now it’s time to use the stick.