After two years of negotiations, we have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb. Barack Hussein Obama
More than a decade later, we still live with the consequences of the decision to invade Iraq . . . Today, Iraq remains gripped by sectarian conflict, and the emergence of al-Qaeda in Iraq has now evolved into ISIL. Barack Hussein Obama
« The president said many times he’s willing to step out of the rut of history.” (…) Once again Rhodes has, perhaps inadvertently, exposed the president’s premises more clearly than the president likes to do. The rut of history: It is a phrase worth pondering. It expresses a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture, an arrogance about old struggles and old accomplishments, a hastiness with inherited precedents and circumstances, a superstition about the magical powers of the present. It expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all.expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all. This is nothing other than the mentality of disruption applied to foreign policy. In the realm of technology, innovation justifies itself; but in the realm of diplomacy and security, innovation must be justified, and it cannot be justified merely by an appetite for change. Tedium does not count against a principled alliance or a grand strategy. Indeed, a continuity of policy may in some cases—the Korean peninsula, for example: a rut if ever there was one—represent a significant achievement. (…) Obama seems to believe that the United States owes Iran some sort of expiation. As he explained to Thomas Friedman the day after the nuclear agreement was reached, “we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran” in 1953. Six years ago, when the streets of Iran exploded in a democratic rebellion and the White House stood by as it was put down by the government with savage force against ordinary citizens, memories of Mohammad Mosaddegh were in the air around the administration, as if to explain that the United States was morally disqualified by a prior sin of intervention from intervening in any way in support of the dissidents. The guilt of 1953 trumped the duty of 2009. But what is the alternative? This is the question that is supposed to silence all objections. It is, for a start, a demagogic question. This agreement was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and it seems uncontroversial to suggest that it does not guarantee such an outcome—then it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve. And if it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve, then it is itself not an alternative, is it? The status is still quo. Or should we prefer the sweetness of illusion to the nastiness of reality? For as long as Iran does not agree to retire its infrastructure so that the manufacture of a nuclear weapon becomes not improbable but impossible, the United States will not have transformed the reality that worries it. We will only have mitigated it and prettified it. We will have found relief from the crisis, but not a resolution of it. The administration’s apocalyptic rhetoric about the deal is absurd: The temporary diminishments of Iran’s enrichment activities are not what stand between the Islamic Republic and a bomb. The same people who assure us that Iran has admirably renounced its aspiration to a nuclear arsenal now warn direly that a failure to ratify the accord will send Iranian centrifuges spinning madly again. They ridicule the call for more stringent sanctions against Iran because the sanctions already in place are “leaky” and crumbling, and then they promise us that these same failing measures can be speedily and reliably reconstituted in a nifty mechanism called “snapback.” Leon Wieseltier
La Corée du Nord a appris au monde qu’au poker nucléaire la folie feinte vous vaut de l’aide étrangère ou l’attention planétaire — du fait que même la certitude qu’on a affaire à un bluff à 99% reste suffisante pour effrayer les opinions publiques occidentales. La Corée du nord est le proverbial envieux psychopathe du quartier qui agresse constamment ses voisins prospères d’à côté, en partant du principe que les voisins ne pourront manquer de prendre en compte ses menaces aussi sauvages qu’absurdes parce qu’il n’a rien et qu’ils ont tout à perdre. (…) L’Iran pourrait reprendre à l’infini le modèle de Kim — menaçant une semaine de rayer Israël de la carte, faisant machine arrière la semaine d’après sous prétexte de problèmes de traduction. L’objectif ne serait pas nécessairement de détruire Israël (ce qui vaudrait à l’Iran la destruction de la culture persane pour un siècle), mais d’imposer une telle atmosphère d’inquiétude et de pessimisme à l’Etat juif que son économie en serait affaiblie, son émigration en serait encouragée et sa réputation géostratégique en serait érodée. La Corée du nord est passée maître dans de telles tactiques de chantage nucléaire. A certains moments, Pyongyang a même réussi à réduire les deux géants asiatiques – Japon et Corée du Sud – à la quasi-paralysie. (…) Un Iran nucléaire n’aurait à s’inquiéter ni d’un ennemi existentiel avec une population d’un milliard d’habitants à côté tel que l’Inde ni d’un mécène tout aussi peuplé comme la Chine susceptible d’imposer des lignes rouges à ses crises de folie périodiques. Téhéran serait libre au contraire de faire et de dire ce qu’il veut. Et son statut de puissance nucléaire deviendrait un multiplicateur de force pour son énorme richesse pétrolière et son statut auto-proclamé de leader mondial des musulmans chiites. Si la Corée du Nord est un danger, alors un Iran nucléaire plus gros, plus riche et sans dissuasion serait un cauchemar. Victor Davis Hanson
The definition of appeasement is to accept demands from an aggressor and then declare that the resulting concessions were of no real importance in the first place. Victor Davis Hanson
When Obama entered office in January 2009, post-surge Iraq was quiet. By the end of his first year in office, three Americans had been killed. In 2010, fewer Americans were lost in Iraq each month than in accidents involving the U.S. military. That is why Joe Biden thought Iraq would be the administration’s “greatest achievement,” and Obama himself declared the country “stable and self-reliant.” Pulling all U.S. troops out at the end of 2011, against the advice of almost all sober military and diplomatic experts, achieved the desired talking point for the 2012 reelection campaign, but collapsed the country and birthed ISIL. Obama’s demagoguery is as if President Dwight Eisenhower had pulled all U.S. troops out of South Korea in 1955 to prep for his 1956 reelection campaign — and then blamed the ensuing North Korean victory and devastation of South Korea on Harry Truman for entering the Korean War in the first place in 1950. (…) All the contortions that Barack Obama has offered about Iraq — damning the invasion in 2003; claiming in 2004 that he had no policy differences on Iraq with the Bush administration; declaring in 2007 that the surge would fail; demanding in 2008 as a presidential candidate that all U.S. troops be brought home; assuring the world in 2011 that Iraq was “stable” and “self-reliant” as he pulled out all American peacekeepers; reassuring the world in 2014 that Iraq’s ISIS was not a real threat; and then deciding in 2015 that it was, as he ordered forces back in — have been predicated on perceived political advantage. That also explains why the deal was not presented as a treaty requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate, as the Constitution outlines. Victor Davis Hanson
Après l’Iran et Cuba, la Corée du nord ?
A l’heure ou emporté par son obsession du changement pour le changement et sa place dans l’histoire …
Le maître-démagogue et pire président américain depuis Carter …
Confirme qu’il est bel et bien prêt de l’Irak à l’Afghanistan où à Cuba et sans oublier ses alliés les plus fidèles comme Israël …
Comment ne pas se poser la question suggérée en creux par la dernière tribune de l’historien américain Victor Davis Hanson …
De la Corée du nord ?
Ou, pour l’ineffable bonheur d’être le premier à le faire, notre Dennis Rodman de la politique pourrait bien retirer les troupes américaines de Corée du sud …
Et enfin serrer la paluche du dernier dictateur stalinien de la planète ?
Obama’s Unpresidential Iran Speech: The speech was mean-spirited and dishonest ─ and may have been counterproductive.
Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
August 11, 2015
President Obama’s speech last week advocating congressional approval of the Iran deal was mostly made-up history mixed with invective. Indeed, he talked far more roughly about his congressional partners than he did about our Iranian enemies, who have worked so hard to kill Americans over the last 35 years.
Obama assured us that in the past a “nonproliferation treaty . . . prohibited nations from acquiring nuclear weapons.” One wonders, then, how India, China, North Korea, and Pakistan ever obtained them, given they were all forbidden to do so under “new agreements” forged by Democratic and Republican presidents. Is there much logic in the assertion that the intelligence was flawed when we went to war with what proved to be a non-nuclear Iraq, but that we can trust the same intelligence agencies to apprise us precisely of the nuclear status of Iran?
“After two years of negotiations,” Obama went on, “we have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb.”
The deal does no such thing. Iran can still possess some enriched uranium. It can still operate centrifuges. It is not subject to anytime, anywhere inspections. And it will be almost impossible to restore international sanctions should Iran be caught cheating. As in the case of Obamacare, most of Obama’s pre-negotiation assurances are now either forgotten or ignored.
Obama, as is his wont, derides any who disagree with him: “Between now and the congressional vote in September, you are going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising. And if the rhetoric in these ads and the accompanying commentary sounds familiar, it should, for many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.”
Yet even as Obama spoke those words, an array of Hollywood liberals was appearing in commercials drumming up support for the treaty. China and Russia are said to be lobbying senators to vote for it. When the president drones on ad nauseam about those “same people” who “argued for the war,” whom exactly does he include in the stable of Iraq War supporters — neocons like Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Fareed Zakaria, and Thomas Friedman? When Obama blasts the “tens of millions of dollars in advertising,” with suggestions of the nefarious role of the “same people” who wanted the Iraq War, I think we are meant to understand the old wink-and-nod dual-loyalty trope about American supporters of Israel.
Obama claimed that the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq was “a preference for military action over diplomacy.” Yet the Iraq War was authorized by both houses of Congress, with a majority of Democratic senators voting in favor, and the resolution contained 23 writs of action — all following up, in the post-9/11 climate, on the regime-change and liberation acts signed into law by former president Bill Clinton. The Bush administration spent months at the United Nations seeking to persuade Security Council members France and Russia (each enjoying valuable oil concessions from Saddam Hussein) to authorize military action in order to enforce U.N. sanctions. In contrast, Obama went to war in Libya without congressional approval. By bombing Moammar Qaddafi into extinction (as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, “We came, we saw, he died”), Obama exceeded the U.N. authorization, which limited U.S. action to humanitarian support and no-fly zones. If Hillary wanted to quote classical Latin concerning the Libyan aftermath, she would have done better to invoke Tacitus: “Where they make a desert, they call it peace.”
The most disingenuous element of Obama’s entire speech was his assertion that “More than a decade later, we still live with the consequences of the decision to invade Iraq . . . Today, Iraq remains gripped by sectarian conflict, and the emergence of al-Qaeda in Iraq has now evolved into ISIL.”
When Obama entered office in January 2009, post-surge Iraq was quiet. By the end of his first year in office, three Americans had been killed. In 2010, fewer Americans were lost in Iraq each month than in accidents involving the U.S. military. That is why Joe Biden thought Iraq would be the administration’s “greatest achievement,” and Obama himself declared the country “stable and self-reliant.”
Pulling all U.S. troops out at the end of 2011, against the advice of almost all sober military and diplomatic experts, achieved the desired talking point for the 2012 reelection campaign, but collapsed the country and birthed ISIL. Obama’s demagoguery is as if President Dwight Eisenhower had pulled all U.S. troops out of South Korea in 1955 to prep for his 1956 reelection campaign — and then blamed the ensuing North Korean victory and devastation of South Korea on Harry Truman for entering the Korean War in the first place in 1950.
Obama, again, blames George W. Bush for most of the problems he himself has caused. For instance, he claims that the Iranians started spinning centrifuges while Bush was in office, conveniently forgetting two key points. First, as a senator, Obama voted to deny the Bush administration the ability to use military force to deter Iran, and he voted against the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, despite its then-recent efforts to kill Americans in Iraq. Second, far more centrifuges have come on line during the Obama administration than did during the Bush administration.
What mostly brought Iran to the negotiating table was not skillful Obama diplomacy, but the ongoing increases in global gas and oil supplies, and the resulting collapse of oil prices, which assuaged our Asian and European allies’ worries about skyrocketing oil prices should Iranian oil go off the market. The prospect of a glut persuaded them to join in sanctioning Iran. The plunge in oil prices that strengthened the Obama administration’s hand came about as a result of private exploration in the U.S. that occurred despite rather than because of Obama’s efforts.
When Obama claims that so far his diplomacy has curtailed Iranian enrichment, he has no idea whether that will prove to be an accurate assessment, given the secrecy of the Iranian project and the Iranians’ refusal to allow inspectors full and open access to their facilities. But if Obama is correct that the interim deal worked so well, and if sanctions brought Iran to the table, why in the world would he discard the status quo?
When he details all the things Iran must and will certainly do, why would he think it is any more likely that Iran will follow the letter of the treaty than that Qassem Suleimani — a high-ranking Iranian general and commander of the Quds Force, which carries out terrorist operations — would obey international travel bans? In fact, shortly after listening to Obama’s speech, Suleimani brazenly broke the ban and traveled to see Putin, apparently to negotiate Russian arms sales with his newly released $150 billion in formerly embargoed funds.
Obama says there is “daily access” to Iran’s “key” nuclear sites. But what if Iran declares a site not “key” and therefore off limits? Obama likewise assures us, “This access can be with as little as 24 hours’ notice.” Does anyone really believe that? Not Obama himself, for he immediately qualified that with, “And while the process for resolving a dispute about access can take up to 24 days, once we’ve identified a site that raises suspicion, we will be watching it continuously until inspectors get in.” If a 24-day wait is no hindrance to inspection, why then have it at all? The definition of appeasement is to accept demands from an aggressor and then declare that the resulting concessions were of no real importance in the first place.
Obama insists: “Congressional rejection of this deal leaves any U.S. administration that is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option, another war in the Middle East. I say this not to be provocative, I am stating a fact.”
That is not a fact. And it is shameful to suggest that it is. Again, the alternative to the deal is not war now, but rather continued sanctions, and a continuation of the increased oil production by the U.S. and the Gulf monarchies that brought a cash-strapped Iran to the table. Both measures could be ratcheted up even further. Obama talks of a “game changer” — another regrettable selection of words when we remember the history of that phrase in the context of the Syrian pink line. Iran was getting weaker by the day even as Obama’s tenure was running out. The urgency came from both Iran and Obama. The former was fearful that it would be both poorer and weaker when a possibly very different president takes office in 2017; the latter in desperation was looking for a legacy after the detritus of reset, Libya, ISIS, Syria, and the growing estrangement from long-term allies such as Egypt and Israel.
Obama assumes Tehran will spend its impending windfall on domestic projects, and told us that such investment “improves the economy and benefits the lives of the Iranian people” — as if theocratic authoritarians are sober and judicious officials who feel that improving health care or building freeways would best serve their interests, rather than bullying neighbors and thus raising their own military and political statures. From Hitler to Saddam, there is little evidence that dictators think like the technocrats of social democracies.
Obama reassures us that Iran’s “conventional capabilities will never compare to Israel’s.” Israel is a country of 8 million people, Iran one of nearly 78 million — with appendages in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the West Bank, and Lebanon that together perhaps already have more conventional missiles pointed at Israel than Israel has bombers that can reach them.
Obama downplays Iran’s Hitlerian rhetoric: “Just because Iranian hardliners chant ‘Death to America’ does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe.” That is an adolescent remark — analogous to saying that just because Hitler promised a “final solution of the Jewish question” did not mean that all Germans shared his anti-Semitism. What would it matter even if such an assertion were true?
Even if a million Iranians once again hit the streets to protest the theocracy — a movement shunned in 2009 by Obama himself — they would probably not be able to sway the policies of their fascist government. Whether most Germans disagreed with the Nazis’ anti-Semitic policy in 1939 was about as relevant as whether Iranians today privately object to the theocrats’ rhetoric.
President Obama should know better. The problem is not that Iranian “hardliners” are chanting “Death to America.” Rather, to take one example, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in good Mein Kampf fashion, has just published a book of 400-plus pages outlining the de facto end of Israel.
It is beneath a president of the United States to equate U.S. congressional representatives with theocratic fascists. But that comparison is about what Obama offered when he declared, “It’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo. It’s those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.”
One wonders whether Obama includes in his weird Iran/U.S. Congress “common cause” the man designated to succeed Harry Reid as the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, who, after listening to Obama’s speech, promptly came out against the pact — to the rejoicing, no doubt, of Iranian “hardliners.” Or are the allies of the hardliners the majority of the American people, who also oppose the Obama deal? And what about the Chinese and Russian leaders who wholeheartedly support Obama’s deal, whether out of the desire for lucre, or for humiliation of the U.S. in the present and in the future — or both? Does Obama envision himself and the Iranian theocracy allied against American and Iranian “hardliners” — as if his affinities to the Khamenei clique trump those to, say, Senator Marco Rubio or Senator John McCain?
It is rich from Obama to declare that critics of the deal are playing politics and endangering U.S. credibility: this, from a man who, as senator, in the middle of the critical surge in Iraq in 2007 declared it a failure and advocated pulling out all U.S. troops in the spring of 2008. It was Obama who destroyed U.S. credibility by setting empty deadlines with Iran, empty step-over lines with Russia, and an empty red line with Syria, while promising to shepherd Libya to a stable postwar government, a policy whose natural trajectory ended in Benghazi.
All the contortions that Barack Obama has offered about Iraq — damning the invasion in 2003; claiming in 2004 that he had no policy differences on Iraq with the Bush administration; declaring in 2007 that the surge would fail; demanding in 2008 as a presidential candidate that all U.S. troops be brought home; assuring the world in 2011 that Iraq was “stable” and “self-reliant” as he pulled out all American peacekeepers; reassuring the world in 2014 that Iraq’s ISIS was not a real threat; and then deciding in 2015 that it was, as he ordered forces back in — have been predicated on perceived political advantage. That also explains why the deal was not presented as a treaty requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate, as the Constitution outlines.
The final irony? President Obama’s rambling and mean-spirited speech may well achieve the opposite effect of its apparent intention. It may persuade some members of his own party that they could do a lot better than joining a dishonest deal and a disingenuous deal-maker.
Victor Davis Hanson
April 11, 2013
The idea of a nuclear Iran — and of preventing a nuclear Iran — terrifies security analysts.
Those who argue for a preemptive strike against Iran cannot explain exactly how American planes and missiles would take out all the subterranean nuclear facilities without missing a stashed nuke or two — or whether they might as well expand their target lists to Iranian military assets in general. None can predict the fallout on world oil prices, global terrorism, and the politically fragile Persian Gulf, other than that it would be uniformly bad.
In contrast, those who favor containment of a nuclear Iran do not quite know how the theocracy could be deterred — or how either Israel or the regional Sunni Arab regimes will react to such a powerful and unpredictable neighbor.
The present crisis with North Korea offers us a glimpse of what, and what not, to expect should Iran get the bomb. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would gain the attention currently being paid to Kim Jong Un — attention not otherwise earned by his nation’s economy or cultural influence.
We should assume that the Iranian theocracy, like the seven-decade-long Kim dynasty in North Korea, would periodically sound lunatic: threatening its neighbors and promising a firestorm in the region — if not eventually in the United States and Europe as well.
An oil-rich, conventionally armed Iran has already used that playbook. When it becomes nuclear, those previously stale warnings of ending Israel or attacking U.S. facilities in the Persian Gulf will not be entirely laughed off, just as Kim Jong Un’s insane diatribes are now not so easily dismissed.
North Korea has taught the world that feigned madness in nuclear poker earns either foreign aid or worldwide attention — given that even a 99 percent surety of a bluff can still scare Western publics. North Korea is the proverbial nutty failed neighbor who constantly picks on the successful suburbanites next door, on the premise that the neighbors will heed his wild, nonsensical threats because he has nothing and they have everything to lose.
Iran could copy Kim’s model endlessly — one week threatening to wipe Israel off the map, the next backing down and complaining that problems in translation distorted the actual, less bellicose communiqué. The point would not necessarily be to actually nuke Israel (which would translate into the end of Persian culture for a century), but to create such an atmosphere of worry and gloom over the Jewish state as to weaken its economy, encourage emigration, and erode its geostrategic reputation.
North Korea is a past master of such nuclear-shakedown tactics. At times Pyongyang has reduced two Asian powerhouses — Japan and South Korea — to near paralysis. Can the nations that gave the world Toyota and Samsung really count on the American defense umbrella? Should they go nuclear themselves? Can North Korean leadership be continually bought off with foreign aid, or is it really as crazy serious as it sounds?
Iran would also be different from other nuclear rogue states. The West often fears a nuclear Pakistan, given that a large part of its tribal lands is ungovernable and overrun with Islamic radicals. Its government is friendly to the West only to the degree that American aid continues.
Yet far larger and more powerful India deters nuclear Pakistan. For all the wild talk from both the Pakistani government and tribal terrorists, there is general fear in Pakistan that India has superior conventional and nuclear forces. India is also unpredictable and not the sort of nation that can be periodically threatened and shaken down for concessions.
Iran has no comparable existential enemy of a billion people — only a tiny Israel of some seven million. The result is that there is no commensurate regional deterrent.
Nor does Iran have a tough master like nuclear China. Even Beijing finally pulls on the leash when its unpredictable North Korean client has threatened to bully neighbors and create too unprofitable a fuss.
Of course, China enjoys the angst that its subordinate causes its rivals. It also sees North Korea as a valuable impediment to a huge, unified, and Westernized Korea on its borders. But that said, China does not want a nuclear war in its backyard. That fact ultimately means North Korea is muzzled once its barking becomes too obnoxious.
A nuclear Iran would worry about neither a billion-person nuclear existential enemy nearby such as India, nor a billion-person patron such as China that would establish redlines to its periodic madness. Instead, Tehran would be free to do and say what it pleased. And its nuclear status would become a force multiplier to its enormous oil wealth and self-acclaimed world leadership of Shiite Muslims.
If North Korea has been a danger, then a bigger, richer, and undeterred nuclear Iran would be a nightmare.
Gary C. Gambill
The National Post
August 18, 2015
Originally published under the title, « Obama’s Legacy-Making Agreement »
U.S. President Barack Obama’s choice of American University, where John F. Kennedy gave a famous 1963 speech calling for peace and nuclear disarmament, to deliver his most impassioned defence of the recently signed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) earlier this month was no accident. In seeking to convince Congress and the American people that the JCPOA adequately defuses the Iranian nuclear threat, the White House and its supporters have been routinely referring to the agreement as the cornerstone of his foreign policy legacy.
This messaging is partly intended as a signal of resolve to fence-sitting Democrats, who might think twice about opposing the signature foreign policy initiative of a president from their own party. But there is a deeper message implicit in the endless repetition of this talking point — that Obama wouldn’t be foolish enough to double down on the JCPOA if what the critics are saying about it is true. « Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing, » the president told The Atlantic in May. « If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this. »
This argument, which National Review opinion editor Patrick Brennan paraphrases as, « Settle on a deal that would ruin my foreign policy legacy? But I want to have a good legacy! » is not without logic. Obama’s a smart guy, with the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus at his disposal. If he’s willing to bet his own farm on the JCPOA, it can’t be that bad, can it?
Legacy-making and the defence of U.S. national interests are two different things.
Unfortunately, yes. If smarts, knowledge and the desire to be judged favourably by history guaranteed foreign policy success, presidents would seldom make mistakes. Obama says he has « never been more certain about a policy decision than this one, » but he also thought overthrowing Qaddafi would be a hoot and look how that turned out. Clearly he’s not omniscient.
But the larger problem with the my-name-on-it argument is that legacy-making and the defence of U.S. national interests are two different things. Good policy decisions don’t always highlight White House leadership in ways that can fill a wing of a presidential library. Whatever the merits of Obama’s handling of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, presidential historians don’t rave about preventing a bad situation from getting worse.
Moreover, a favourable legacy doesn’t always require the clear-cut advancement of U.S. national interests in the here and now. Legacy-making concerns how one’s actions will be perceived by future generations who have little sense of the context and details. Whereas elected officials ordinarily strive to be responsive to the interests and preferences of constituents, a legacy-seeking president seeks vindication in the political hereafter.
Good policy doesn’t always highlight White House leadership in ways that can fill a wing of a presidential library.
This is a slippery slope for a progressive like Obama, who surely assumes that future generations will be more sympathetic to his worldview than his contemporaries. He may therefore reason that a charitable judgment can best be ensured by staying true to himself, as it were, even if it entails serious security risks, all the more so because his administration has deviated from these presumed future norms in other areas (e.g., drone strikes).
This may have given Obama reason to prefer a deeply flawed agreement that embodies his worldview over walking away from the table with nothing at all. Failed negotiations — or a continued succession of interim agreements that hands the ball to his successor — don’t interest Steven Spielberg. At a time when prospects of an unvarnished domestic policy triumph have dimmed, and after his ambitious effort to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian talks went nowhere, the Iran negotiations were his last chance to do something big.
Whatever his reasons, Obama’s approach has been to extract as many concessions from Iran as possible before he leaves office, but not leave the table without an agreement. Unfortunately, the Iranians correctly ascertained that he could not afford to take no for an answer, and that standing firm on unreasonable demands would bring American flexibility. The end result is that an « international effort, buttressed by six UN resolutions, to deny Iran the capability to develop a military nuclear option, » former secretary of state Henry Kissinger explained in congressional testimony early this year, soon became « an essentially bilateral negotiation over the scope of that capability, » with the scope of capability acceptable to the administration widening dramatically as the negotiations wore on.
Congress and the American people should give the Obama administration a fair hearing and evaluate the JCPOA on its merits, but pay no attention to the president’s expressions of boundless confidence in the agreement. It’s a good bet even he never imagined he’d have to settle for such a crappy deal.
Gary C. Gambill is a research fellow at the Middle East Forum.