It’s Congress’s fault if there’s a war with Iran, says the White House. Last week administration officials showed their frustration with lawmakers who seek to impose another round of sanctions on the Iranians. "It is important to understand that if pursuing a resolution diplomatically is disallowed or ruled out, what options, then, do we and our allies have to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?" said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "The American people do not want a march to war."
The idea is that if Congress doesn’t give Obama room for diplomatic flexibility then the only option—and Obama says all options are on the table—is military strikes. The problem is not just that no one believes Obama would actually use force, but that no one is suggesting he do so—or at least no one in Washington.
Going into the second round of negotiations in Geneva later this week, it’s difficult to know what constitutes a U.S. red line anymore. From the perspective of administration officials, as Robert Satloff argues, getting Iran to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions and suspend uranium enrichment is a “maximalist” position. Indeed, in its eagerness to get a deal with Tehran, the White House has dragged the U.S. debate so far toward the Iranian position that the most hawkish stance is to impose further sanctions. Talk about bombing Iranian nuclear facilities is now outside the bounds of civilized discourse.
It’s bad enough that it’s long been assumed that Israel, rather than the United States, would conduct the strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and would thereby police and protect an area of vital strategic importance to American interests. But now the U.S. debate has become so timorous that what used to constitute a mainstream U.S. position advocated even by Obama—if all else fails, attack Iran—has been farmed out to Israel.
The Iranians, on the other hand, have not hesitated to deploy the specter of their cadre of hardliners in negotiating with the Americans, taking a page right out of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s handbook. Writing in THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Michael Doran explained Nasser’s bargaining tactics: To get the best possible terms from the Americans, tell them you need signs of good faith to sideline your domestic “radicals”—i.e., regime allies who will stop pointing their weapons at the United States once Washington pays up.
Thus, in the view of U.S. Iran hands and nuclear proliferation experts, the White House can’t push Iranian president Hassan Rouhani too hard, or it will risk displeasing his “radicals,” the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The upshot of trying to keep Rouhani at the table, to incentivize him, is to cave to virtually every Iranian demand.
But of course the White House isn’t really negotiating with Iran—it’s voluntarily playing the mark on the wrong end of a long con. It’s not like Wendy Sherman or Valerie Jarrett or any other member of Obama’s negotiating team was ever going to use the hawkish American position to force Iran’s hand. (“Heck, we’d love to acknowledge your God-given right to enrich uranium, but we have these knuckle-draggers back home who want to bomb you back to the stone age so we better forget about that one.”) No, what’s surprising is how easily the administration defanged its domestic opponents in order to partner with Tehran.