President Obama yesterday uttered words about Iran we know come from the heart: “What we want to do is give diplomacy a chance, and give peace a chance.”
The leaders of Iran didn’t go to Columbia in the early 1980’s and didn’t dabble in the arms control movement. Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani had different formative experiences, ones that involved using arms, not trying to control them. They hanged political opponents by their necks from cranes, built a terrorist organization in Lebanon that murdered and abducted Americans, fought a war with Iraq, and carried out assassinations in Europe against regime opponents and bombings in Argentina against Jews. Obama wants to give peace a chance; the Iranians are giving victory a chance.
So here’s a balance sheet of the past two weeks, as one side takes its cues from John and Yoko and the other from Ayatollah Khomeini:
Obama has been mostly concerned with the possibility that the Senate may adopt a bill that would slightly tighten sanctions on Iran after one year’s time, but only if Obama somehow proves unable to talk the Iranians into surrendering their nuclear program peacefully. All options really are on the table for the president when it comes to the threat from the Senate: he warns he’ll use the veto, he accuses members of his own party of warmongering, he says he’ll blame the failure of the talks – and the failure of peace itself – on supporters of the bill, and he’s daring senators like Chuck Schumer and Cory Booker to declare openly that they’re trying to start a war with Iran.
A lot of sound and fury, but it doesn’t signify nothing. It tells the Iranians that the thing the president values most is the talks themselves – not stopping their nuclear program, not cutting their regional ambitions down to size, not defending American allies. The Iranians understand that Obama’s greatest desire is to be able to say that his central foreign policy promise – that he can settle conflicts through diplomacy – is finally, five years on, being fulfilled.
For their part, the Iranians know that with the talks set to begin, they have what amounts to a blank check from the White House to make mischief. They know that Obama will now say and do little lest Iran play its trump card – leaving the talks. Obama is thus playing cuckold, willing to absorb repeated public humiliation so long as his partner doesn’t leave him.
The Iranians know it and they feel it, and so they’re taking advantage of every bit of the latitude Obama’s desperation provides:
- Two days after Christmas, Hezbollah carried out a car bombing in Beirut that murdered the pro-western Mohamad Chatah, Lebanon’s former ambassador to the U.S. and an outspoken critic of Iranian domination of his country.
- Bahrain interdicted an Iranian arms ship carrying an extraordinary array of weapons and explosives intended for Shia anti-government forces. Add Bahrain to the long list of Middle East countries Iran is trying to subvert through violence and terror.
- Russia and Iran are now negotiating a major oil-for-goods pact that would circumvent international sanctions on Iranian oil exports and provide the regime $1.5 billion a month. Secretary of State Kerry placed a tepid phone call to the Russian foreign minister to complain.
- When Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Zarif’s mother died on December 28, the State Department issued a statement saying, “We express our condolences to the respected family for its great loss.” Zarif repaid the favor by laying a wreath at the grave of Imad Mugniyeh, Hezbollah’s longtime terrorist commander and orchestrator of the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing that killed nearly 250 Americans.
- While Rouhani tweets in English about seeking better relations with the U.S., the Supreme Leader and other senior regime officials tell Iranians in Farsi that America is “Satan” and lead crowds in chants of “death to America.”
- The IAEA complains that under the Geneva Agreement it will not be able to sufficiently probe Iranian nuclear weapons research. Meanwhile, during the implementation talks Obama’s negotiators apparently conceded Iran’s right to continue research and development on advanced centrifuges only relevant to a weapons program – but there’s no way to know for sure, because the White House is keeping the implementation agreement a secret.
- Iranian officials are taking a victory lap. Rouhani boasts on Twitter that the “world powers surrendered” to Iran. The chief nuclear negotiator issued this concise summary of the Geneva deal: “No facility will be closed; enrichment will continue, and qualitative and nuclear research will be expanded. All research into a new generation of centrifuges will continue.”
The White House’s response to this lopsided tally? Speaking at a press conference in Paris, Secretary of State Kerry invited Iran to participate in an upcoming summit on the Syria war that Iran itself is largely responsible for sustaining. “I invite Iran today to join the community of nations, the 30 nations that are already prepared to come, and be a constructive partner for peace.” As President Obama put it, “give peace a chance.”
Noah Pollak can be followed on Twitter @NoahPollak.