Belmont Club

Epic fail?

Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post says that although the engagement policy with Iran hasn’t been declared officially dead yet, it’s being measured by the undertaker.  He argues that in all probability, the administration’s efforts to negotiate with Iran will fail — leaving Plan B — containment, as the only hope.  However Diehl predicts that the administration will continue to whistle past the graveyard until the zombies are too numerous and insistent to ignore.

Let’s take Diehl’s main points one by one. Point one: Epic Fail? He writes:

The Obama administration’s positive tone following its first diplomatic encounter with Iran covers a deep and growing gloom in Washington and European capitals. Seven hours of palaver in Geneva haven’t altered an emerging conclusion: None of the steps the West is considering to stop the Iranian nuclear program is likely to work.

Point number two: incurable fail.

Not talks. Not sanctions, even of the “crippling” variety the Obama administration has spoken of. Not military strikes. And probably not support for regime change through the still-vibrant opposition.

Point number three: it is still possible to bolt the stable door after the horse has run off.

What then? Pollack, a former Clinton administration official, says there is one obvious Plan B: “containment,” a policy that got its name during the Cold War. The point would be to limit Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons or exercise its influence through the region by every means possible short of war — and to be prepared to sustain the effort over years, maybe decades. It’s an option that has been lurking at the back of the debate about Iran for years. “In their heart of hearts I think the Obama administration knows that this is where this is going,” Pollack says.

Point number four: you don’t have to worry. They’ll break it to you gently.

I also don’t expect Obama and his aides to begin talking about a policy shift anytime soon. For the next few months we’ll keep hearing about negotiations, sanctions and possibly Israeli military action as ways to stop an Iranian bomb. By far the best chance for a breakthrough, as I see it, lies in a victory by the Iranian opposition over the current regime. If that doesn’t happen, it may soon get harder to disguise the hollowness of Western policy.

There is something ironic in hoping that the Iranian opposition the administration disdained may yet pull their chestnuts out of the fire. It would be as if Marguerite, after being betrayed by Faust; having witnessed the death of her brother at his hands, suddenly intervened from heaven at the very hour Mephistopheles comes to claim the Doctor’s soul by interposing a curtain of petals between him and and the devil. It would be as if Neda Soltani, the woman who was the martyred symbol of the Iranian opposition, rose in spirit to save the men who who were so eager make a deal with her killers.

The worst of it was that the politicians should have known better. If Iran arms up, what becomes of  a “world without nuclear weapons”? What will Israel do, faced with an existential threat? Will the adminstration fund sea-based missile defense if Iran is now unstoppably a nuclear weapons power? What happens to Iraq, which the administration is determined to “responsibly” quit? What happens to Afghanistan, that war of necessity which is now optional? How complicated a world in which the can is kicked down the road eventually becomes. Which of Shakespeare shall we have? Julius Caesar?

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Or Macbeth?

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

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