Obama: The Chamberlain of Our Time?

In recent weeks, it has become clear that the Obama administration’s policy is to regard Iran as an ally in the fight against ISIS, and to overlook its goal of attaining hegemony throughout the Middle East. Iran essentially controls Baghdad and the Iraqi army fighting ISIS, Lebanon, and Assad’s Syria. We no longer hear Obama pronouncing that “Assad must go.”

The Iranian expansion is described in a Wall Street Journal editorial, in which the editors write:

The strategic implications of this Iranian advance are enormous. Iran already had political sway over most of Shiite southern Iraq. Its militias may now have the ability to control much of Sunni-dominated Anbar, especially if they use the chaos to kill moderate Sunnis. Iran is essentially building an arc of dominance from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut on the Mediterranean.

Iran’s actions threaten the Sunni states of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states, all of whom fear that an emerging alliance of the U.S. with Iran poses a great threat to their own national interest. Writing in the Lebanese paper The Daily Star, columnist Michael Young further explains this new reality:

As Iran expands its power throughout the Middle East, it is seeking to reshape the political landscape in ways designed to enhance its leverage and that of its allies. Nor is anybody successfully hindering this. On the contrary, it has become increasingly apparent that the United States has no intention of challenging Iran’s sway in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Gone are the days when the American priority was containment of Iran in the region. Under Barack Obama, the U.S. appears to favor a new regional order in which Iran will be granted a choice role.

A few days ago, Bloomberg columnist and  The Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted an article in Foreign Policy  by Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.  If Lewis represents the viewpoint of nonproliferation experts, they should stop wasting their time.  According to him, the most nonproliferation efforts can achieve is to delay Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb.  As he argues in his piece, any delay is beneficial.

Lewis skewers Tom Cotton for putting together the letter to Ayatollah Khamenei signed by 47 Republican senators, and its threat that the Senate could later undo any agreement signed by Obama. Calling the letter “a violation of the Logan Act,” Lewis continues to argue that “no agreement…would satisfy the president’s opponents.”  Then comes his main argument, “that there is no good deal.” Our only option is to “buy time” until Iran gets the bomb. He fully understands that the U.S. and the West have made “one concession after another” which failed, since by the time they made them, Iran had moved so far along the path to a bomb that “the concession had no value.”

Rather than understand that this actually is an argument for being firm before Iran moves forward, Lewis concludes that no sanctions will work,  that Iran will not respond to any form of pressure, and hence a tough policy will end “with a half-assed airstrike against Iran…and eventually an Iranian nuclear weapon.” Lewis avoids entirely another option favored and advanced by PJ Media's Michael Ledeen: aid Iran’s beleaguered youth, dissenters and others who would support regime change.  In the past, during the uprising of the Green movement, Obama -- as we know -- chose to ignore them. We also know that this strategy was adopted by the Reagan administration to aid the emerging Solidarity movement in Poland, and led to its successful challenge to the Communist regime.

Instead, Lewis writes that the U.S. will be blamed by Europe if the negotiations fail and all sanctions will collapse, and that military action against Iran would be a mistake and would only set its nuclear program back by a few years. It is foolhardy to demand, as Republicans do, the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear capability; better Lewis says an “imperfect freeze on plutonium programs.”

To Lewis, North Korea’s violation of a treaty it signed in 1994 is not a reason to oppose another foolhardy agreement.  The “Agreed Framework” with North Korea to freeze its plutonium production infrastructure was readily violated and meant nothing.  Somehow Lewis concludes that it showed “even an imperfect freeze on plutonium programs put the United States in a stronger, safer position to manage the problem.” That, of course, is a statement that makes no sense whatsoever. How does allowing North Korea to go nuclear in its weapons stash make anyone safer?

Finally, he argues that Republicans are fibbing, and that once in power, they would do precisely as Obama is doing. He thinks they would negotiate with Iran in the same manner and eventually end up with the same agreement Obama will obtain, “with all its flaws and shortcomings.” So his conclusion:

Iran is still going to engage in all kinds of regional aggression that threatens our allies and interests. It will still treat its citizens terribly. But it might not have a bomb- at least, not for the moment.

Obviously, the Obama administration sees things exactly that way. No longer is our policy “a bad deal is worse than no deal,” but the opposite: “A bad deal is far better than no deal at all.”

Lewis wrote his article before the appearance in yesterday’s Washington Post of an op-ed by Joshua Muravchik, who makes a cogent case for the possibility that, contrary to most assertions, war and military action would actually work, and could be limited in scope. I am not entirely convinced of his argument, since he believes sanctions can never work, and hence he believes that a military strike against Iran is the only serious option that could force Iran's hand. But his argument that “force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons” should be debated and taken seriously as a possible alternative.

Like the Nazis and the Soviets, the Iranian mullahs, Muravchik says, are legitimized by ideology, which motivates every step they take. He believes “an air campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does.”

Perhaps that is the rub. Iran does indeed pose a far greater threat to the U.S. and the West than does ISIS. Yet the administration is in effect accepting and perhaps favoring a de facto alliance with Iran that will be only to the mullahs' benefit. Some of us charge the administration with pursuing a Chamberlain-like policy of appeasement. Lewis and the Obama administration see appeasement as beneficial, much like elite liberal and left-wing opinion viewed Chamberlain’s Munich agreement he negotiated with Hitler. Rather than prevent World War II as  Chamberlain thought it did, it made war inevitable and it came at a time when Germany was much stronger.

Muravchik is saying in effect that we should strike before it is too late, and not act like the British did at Munich.   In one sense, Ben Rhodes, the key White House adviser to Obama, agrees with Muravchik that sanctions will not work, which would leave the United States only with a military option to use against Iran.

In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Rhodes explained that the White House position is to avoid war by doing the only thing possible: negotiate a nuclear agreement. As Rhodes and obviously Obama see things, Iran will not give up its nuclear power and will not change the nature of its oppressive regime. And since war must be avoided at all costs, that leaves only an agreement, even if some see it as imperfect or even meaningless.

Obama and Ben Rhodes may think a U.S.-negotiated deal with Iran will boost the president's  legacy, but the way things are going, Obama may go down as the Chamberlain of our time.