The Failed Obama Iran Policy: Now What?
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:
Different relationship with the world, indeed! If the State Department had paid attention to Ross’s speech, they wouldn’t embarrass themselves by chanting false mantras. That sort of nonsense only encourages the regime to redouble its attacks on Americans, and reminds the embattled opposition that they’re not going to get any help from Washington.
And yet, the regime is getting weaker by the day. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei just finished a very public trip to Qom, the locus of the Shi’ite establishment. He went there because he and his dwindling band of followers know that his authority is very weak, and they hoped to organize big crowds to welcome him to the holy city, and then arrange for the most important ayatollahs to pay homage to him. It didn’t happen; despite a considerable cash flow for participants in the “spontaneous” rallies, he didn’t get big crowds, and while some senior ayatollahs were hauled into his presence, many stayed away. I would not be surprised to see a crackdown on some of the recalcitrant ayatollahs, but for the moment, the regime is actually backing away from confrontation with the political opposition. The two leaders of the Green Movement have just met, despite warnings and scores of armed thugs around their homes -- Mir Hossein Mousavi got in his car, defied the security officers, and drove to Mehdi Karroubi's house to collect his colleague and Karroubi's sons -- and Karroubi's offices are apparently reopening, which is a real sign of regime weakness.
There are other such signs: in the past, the regime executed its (real and imagined) opponents in public, on the assumption that others would be intimidated, but that policy has failed. Recent executions -- lots of them -- have been in secret, but the Greens have publicized them. Mousavi knows that such accounts bring more people to the Green banner.
And while Khamenei was trolling for love in the streets of Qom, the commander of the Basij forces, Mohammed Reza Naghdi, was calling for Iranian students to be indoctrinated in the ways of martyrdom. This is part of the regime's campaign to compel the young to read and hear the most radical Islamic doctrines, a humiliating admission that thirty-one years after the Islamic Revolution, Iranians are not true believers. Mosque attendance is low, and men in turbans are objects of public scorn (a well known anecdote tells of a mullah having to change into normal clothes in order to get a taxi).
Most Iranian people want an end to this failed state, and so should we. Ross spoke at length about the efficacy of the new sanctions, and they are undoubtedly having an effect. But Ross only praises the sanctions within the very narrow context of the Iranian nuclear program, as if we would be happy with a non-nuclear Iran, no matter how many Americans were killed by the terrorists armed, funded, and trained by the regime.
If that is not complicity with evil, what is?
Instead of contorted reasoning and myths about the wonders of talking to the mass murderers in Tehran, intelligent and honorable men like Dennis Ross should be calling for support for the Green Movement and working for the liberation of Iran.
How many Americans have to die at the hands of the Islamic Republic before we finally figure this out?
We're about to get a new Congress. Is there anyone in its ranks who will say this and fight for it?