“The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.”
- Barack Obama, September 23, 2010
“some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime. The majority of the American people as well as other nations and politicians agree with this view.”
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, September 23, 2010
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, President Obama delivered a speech of contradictions, cobbling together what appeared to be a new opening toward diplomatic engagement with Iran, a lengthy paean to the Middle East Peace Process, and language echoing George W. Bush’s second inaugural address on the transformative role of democracy. Serious discussion of the two wars Americans are fighting (and dying) in was nowhere to be found.
But it was Iran that dominated the headlines, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivering a dose of his traditional vile rhetoric. Just hours after Obama once again stretched out his hand, the Iranian leader outlined three “viewpoints” about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 including the accusation that the attack was carried out by the U.S. government. He ended this nonsense with a call for “an independent fact-finding group for the event of 11 September so that in the future expressing views about it is not forbidden.”
The Obama administration was quick to condemn Ahmadinejad’s speech, delivered just several miles from the hallowed ground where the World Trade Center towers once stood. But the fact that President Obama went to New York even thinking that there might be some progress on the diplomatic front with Iran raises serious questions about his strategy for preventing a nuclear Iran.
The day before the dueling speeches, the administration was in engagement mode. "We want the engagement to be a real engagement, and we will do some intensive thinking now to have an arsenal of ideas. But we also think it is time the Iranians produced an idea or two," a senior diplomat told the Washington Post.
In recent months, the Obama administration has appeared serious about the “pressure track,” obtaining Russian and Chinese support for a new round of United Nations Security Council sanctions, and convincing European and other allies to pursue further measures.
But these actions obscure the fundamental problem with this administration’s Iran policy. Obama’s efforts to pressure Tehran are not about getting Iran to halt its weapon program. Instead, it serves one purpose – to get Iran back to negotiations – negotiations that Iran clearly has no intention of taking seriously. Ahmadinejad made that clear with his characteristically bombastic performance at the UN rostrum.
The facts are this. After more than eighteen months of outreach by the Obama administration, Iran is rapidly nearing a nuclear weapons capability. The greatest opportunity for reform in Iran in years went out with a whimper last year after the president remained silent as the regime gunned down peaceful protesters in the streets. Iran continues to kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now the Iranian leader has come to New York and made the president and his top advisors look dangerously naive. After being humiliated by Ahmadinejad’s performance yesterday, Obama deployed a tougher tone, telling an interviewer from BBC Persia today that there are a “host of options” if Iran fails to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
The excerpts released this week from Bob Woodward’s book depict an indecisive president uncomfortable with his role as commander in chief. Hopefully, Woodward got it wrong because with Iran approaching the threshold of a nuclear weapons capability, America desperately needs a commander in chief who is up to the task.