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On Point

Iran Plays for Time


by Austin Bay
May 18, 2010

Once again, the Obama administration's diplomatic multilateralism has produced a time-buying victory for Iran in its unilateral pursuit of nuclear weapons. This means the world is measurably closer to the day Tehran obtains a deployable nuke.

Remember "smart diplomacy," Barack Obama's 2008 campaign tout, the nifty sound-bite the lapdog media loved? The latest diplomatic fracas surrounding Turkey and Brazil's negotiating initiative with Iran certainly isn't "smart," unless you're a punster alluding to the smarting pain of a hard rap on the wrist.

Nukes in the ayatollahs' arsenal, however, are more than a slap at President Obama's Ivy League ego. They are an intercontinental disaster, militarily, diplomatically and -- if you happen to be Israel, Iraq, a Persian Gulf emirate or Europe -- existentially.

Oh, a bevy of well-spoken toffs will deny that, but these striped-pants squeaks have a historical record. In 1938, Britain's Neville Chamberlain, a nattily dressed chap, brought a scrap of paper back from Munich that promised "peace in our time." Adolf Hitler had assured Neville peace would reign after the West gave him Czechoslovakia.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, is assuring us of administration success. This Tuesday she told the Senate -- in a rather Chamberlainesque triumphal tone -- that in the aftermath of the slippery Turkish-Brazilian agreement "Russia, China, the U.S., the U.K., France and Germany ... are proceeding to rally the international community on behalf of a strong (U.N.) sanctions resolution that will ... send an unmistakable message about what is expected from Iran."

Yeah. Rally on, international community. Unmistakable this time. Harsh, effective, game-changing sanctions are at hand. All but at hand. Coming soon to Planet Earth ...

Is the would-be watershed agreement Clinton extolled a seamless, nuke-stopping embargo? That may depend on how you read the words of China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. Yang said he found the Iranian nuclear material swap arrangement negotiated by Turkey and Brazil to be encouraging. The Chinese diplomat backs Clinton's Senate certainty with murky tea leaves that could signal China believes yet another diplomatic option exists for Iran.

Yang certainly gives China diplomatic options. Beijing wants Turkey to curtail support for Turkic Uighur rebels in China's Xinjiang province. Turkey could read Clinton's Senate statement as a stinging rebuff of its multilateral efforts, or as a sellout, since Turkish diplomats claim senior U.S. officials (including Clinton) were in "constant contact" during negotiations with Iran. China thus positions itself to gain political advantage with Turkey and Brazil at American expense.

Despite Clinton's rousing testimony, what we have is diplomatic uncertainty if not chaos, and so time passes.

Uncertainty and chaos suit Tehran. For over a decade, Tehran's Khomeinist regime has pursued a policy of strategic delay, buying time to acquire what it regards as a make-or-break strategic technological edge: nuclear weapons. Nukes forward the regime's long-term strategic goal -- establishing Iran as an Islamic revolutionary power with global reach. Definitely grandiose, but the goal is a legacy of the Ayatollah Khomeini himself. The regime also believes brandishing nuclear warheads will buck up domestic political support by appealing to Iranian nationalism.

Since early 2009, the Obama administration has pursued a policy of multilateral engagement, with the goal of building international support for rigorous economic and political sanctions. Obama-type international multilateralism vis a vis Iran, however,  has proved to be an unfocused amalgam of superficial processes.

Why? From the start, President Obama offered concessions, not focused leadership, in part because his own administration is riddled with multiculturalists from the academic left who think American power and strong, forceful American leadership are the source of the world's most wicked problems.

When Iranian dissidents began demonstrating in the wake of the fraudulent elections of June 2009, Obama had the opportunity to make time the enemy of Tehran's ayatollahs. He failed, however, to support Iranian modernizers and remains hesitant to use the truly powerful diplomatic tool of promoting democracy. Obama's preference for finger-wagging and strongly worded memos may command gray-haired profs with ponytails, but in the international arena his performance is kindergarten theatrics.

The Obama administration must change and provide real leadership by preparing for regime-ending military action, not just a nuclear program knockout. Until it does, the mullahs continue to play these self-proclaimed smart diplomats for the dummies they are. 

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