Friday, December 16, 2011

U.S. Policy and Iran: Why Obama’s Bargain has Failed

By Barry Rubin

The Biblical verse Deuteronomy 30 quotes God as saying: I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life that thou may live….”

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This notion of choice is the basis for Obama Administration policy toward Iran. And as in the Bible the “correct” choice seems rather obvious. Who would not choose “life”? Answer: The Islamist regime of Iran.
Since late 2010, when he finally decided that he couldn’t make a deal with Iran, Obama turned to his own choice scenario. Here’s how he presented it in his December 8 press conference:

“Iran understands that they have a choice: They can break that isolation by acting responsibly and foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons, which would still allow them to pursue peaceful nuclear power, like every other country that’s a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or they can continue to operate in a fashion that isolates them from the entire world.”

Now, when presented like that, how could Tehran not decide it should be ‘acting responsibly and foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons”? And yet Iran doesn’t make the choice Obama expects. Why is that?

I suspect that you, dear readers, already know much of the answer but you can ask yourself why you haven’t heard this answer more often.

First, when even God makes humanity an “offer it can’t refuse,” humanity has still largely refused it! There is evil in the world, there are people who do not follow any religion or moral system, and there are those who do not follow their own religion faithfully. There are, for example, clergymen who lie, cheat, and steal, too.

So such bargains often don’t work. Why is that?   Because people don’t believe that there are only two choices. They look for loopholes or additional options and find them, at least in their own minds.
The same applies to Iran. In international relations a key loophole is called “credibility.” If the power of the United States isn’t visible and compelling, its enemies don’t feel they need to follow its dictates or accept its definition of the situation.

Second, in addition to attacking the terms of the proposed bargain, Tehran challenges its premises. Of course, Iran is in many ways isolated and its pursuit of nuclear weapons has costs. Yet what if the costs of isolation are lower than Obama claims?

Iran has good relations with China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey (despite some minor problems in that last case). It projects extensive influence into Lebanon and Iraq. Obama’s “great achievement”—and in part it is real—has been to reduce Iran’s economic relationship to most of Europe. But, after all, the Europeans wanted this, too, and in some cases—the same goes for the U.S. Congress--they were ready to move faster and further than Obama.

Iran’s relations with countries like Britain, France, and Germany have not exactly been great during the last quarter-century even when Iran wasn’t pursuing nuclear weapons. But they are not at zero either, as numerous reports about continuing trade show.

So while Iran has definitely lost more in the last year due to Obama’s efforts how much more and is this loss intolerable? No.

Third, the Iranian regime, rightly or wrongly, judges that the benefits of having nuclear weapons are also higher than Obama thinks. Notice above in his statement, Obama does not mention  a single possible benefit for Iran in having nuclear weapons!  Can he list them and show they are bogus? Of course the Iranian regime knows the truth even if the American people don't

Let me list some of the advantages for Ira in having nuclear weapons:

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