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Time’s Tony Karon on Why Obama’s Iran Effort Failed

John on December 22, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Sometimes, reading the news is enough to make you want to bang your head into a wall repeatedly. Today is one of those days thanks to Tony Karon of Time magazine. Let’s walk through his piece starting with the headline:

Stalemate: How Obama’s Iran Outreach Failed

Presumably, he’s going to explain what went wrong, but first the admission of failure:

Obama campaigned for the presidency promising a game-changing diplomatic outreach, noting that President Bush’s efforts had failed to prevent Iran from achieving a capacity to enrich uranium. But, under pressure at home and abroad from skeptics of engagement who insist that Iran is drawing perilously close to nuclear weapons capability, Obama gave his engagement effort only until the new year to change the game.

So he promised voters the moon and the stars. What else is new? Now he’s under pressure from “skeptics” who insist Iran is “perilously close” to nukes. Hmmm. Do they mean skeptics like the IAEA’s Nobel Peace Prize winning Mohammed Elbaradei?

I’m being flip, but really what is the point of blaming the pressure on “skeptics” if the poster boy for Iranian anti-skepticism is now questioning their ambitions? Why not rather say that there is near universal agreement on Iranian intentions in the wake of the discovery of a secret processing site, Iran’s announcement of plans to build more similar sites, and the fact that they’ve been working secretly on nuclear detonators. How did all that stay out of this story?!

Anyway, we’ve come to the key graph where the reasons for failure will all become clear:

So how did Obama, for all his game-changing intentions, end up inheriting Bush’s Iran stalemate? Two key factors have combined to scupper his diplomatic efforts: Iran’s domestic political year of living dangerously

Whoa! Hold the phone. We’re blaming Iranian obstinacy over nukes on…wait for it…Iranian tyranny. Wow, who would have foreseen that improbable connection? But author Tony Karon goes even further a few paragraphs later:

[T]he increasingly bitter struggle for power in Tehran following last June’s disputed election has not only pushed the nuclear issue to the margins of the regime’s agenda; it also appears to have tied Ahmadinejad’s hands in making a deal.

So the fact that Iranians took to the streets to demand more freedom made it necessary for Ahmadinejad to crack down. Alas, if only that hadn’t happened when it did. Because, as we all know, prior to the Iranian election, Ahmadinejad was a model of decorum and Western idealism.

May I humbly suggest that the past 3-4 years of experience strongly suggest that, even when his hands weren’t tied with crushing dissent at home, Ahmadinejad was not inclined to stop pursuing nukes. In fact, when not busy crushing dissent at home, his government was giving Iraqi insurgents weapons, money and training to kill our soldiers. So, again, what were we expecting here?

But the article has a second reason for Obama’s failure and, unbelievably, it is even flimsier than the first reason:

[T]he new Administration bound its diplomacy to tight deadlines and to the same goal as its predecessor — persuading Iran to abandon uranium enrichment, even for peaceful purposes.

Hmmm. So the problem was that Obama wanted the same thing as Bush, the UN and the rest of the world. And because the goal didn’t change, the outcome didn’t change either.

Isn’t this a not-very-clever way of saying that the Iranians weren’t going to change their mind about the issue. And since they weren’t, asking nicely didn’t make a damn bit of difference. I’m pretty sure that’s his point. Getting Iran to abandon enrichment was an unrealistic goal.

So if you unpack Tony Karon’s piece what you get is that Obama failed because:

  1. Iran is a brutal dictatorship which can’t show weakness.
  2. Iran was not inclined to stop pursuing nukes anyway.

What do you say when someone states the obvious as if it were a revelation? A full year after the election when Iran was a topic in at least two national debates, Tony Karon has finally jumped on the neocon bandwagon vis a vis Iran.

Better late than never I guess.

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Category: Foreign Affairs |

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