Obama Has Failed on Iran

Monday, 22 Feb 2010 12:11 PM

By Richard Grenell

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Let’s face it; President Barack Obama’s hope for a dialogue with dictators was a naïve gamble to begin with.

Even many people in his own party thought it was an academic exercise from an inexperienced law professor that wasn’t rooted in reality. But during the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama was on one side of the argument of what to do about Iran, and Hillary Clinton and John McCain were on the other.

Obama championed the idea that he could rally the international community to do more to isolate the government of Iran and that he could sit down with its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to convince him that he should give up the illegal pursuit of a nuclear bomb.

Clinton and McCain, however, advocated for a tougher approach that included immediate new sanctions, using the White House bully pulpit and possible military action. While Obama believed that he could convince Ahmadinejad of the error of his ways through direct dialogue, Clinton and McCain warned that it was a waste of precious time.

One year later Obama has single-handedly allowed the Iranians more than a year of unfettered progress toward a nuclear weapon with less pressure and inquiry from the international community.

Even the slow-moving, state-the-obvious International Atomic Energy Agency announced this week that it fears Iran is working toward a nuclear warhead to go along with its undisclosed uranium enrichment activities. And although the United States has been negotiating with Iran for more than 30 years, Obama has been acting like this nation has never tried diplomacy.

Recently, the president has been trying something "new." 

“The next step is sanctions,” President Obama said on Feb. 9. The problem with the president’s latest pronouncement is that the next step was sanctions — 14 months ago.

Over the last 14 months, the U.S. should have been enforcing the existing U.N. sanctions, ratcheting up the pressure with new penalties, urging the Europeans to abide by the current financial restrictions, and supporting the opposition inside Iran. Now, a new round of sanctions and the inevitable protracted process getting to a U.N. vote may play into the Iranian’s hopes for more time.

U.N. sanctions will take months of consistent pressure. To begin a U.N. sanctions process now will only compound the dangerous mistakes Obama has already made.

And his U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, may be too weak to negotiate a Security Council resolution on Iran.

Shockingly, Obama and Rice haven’t produced a single U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran since they’ve been in office. Putting Rice up against the Iranians or even the Chinese or Europeans should give every American a cause for concern.

This past year, Rice has spent more time in Washington looking to trip up Hillary and take her job than she has spent working the halls of the U.N. negotiating a resolution on Iran. And like Obama, she has not paid attention to the priority issues.

While Rice claims that her Cabinet-level job requires more D.C. face time, in fact, U.S. Mission employees have confirmed that Rice isn’t leading the Iran negotiations from New York or Washington.

The State Department in Washington has taken the responsibility of writing a U.N. resolution away from Rice and is negotiating directly with the French ambassador. American leadership at the U.N. has vanished. And the United States has never been more popular because of it.

While the Iranians have been secretly enriching uranium to the benchmark 19.75 percent weapons grade and demonstrating that they have the technology to make a nuclear weapon, the U.S. has spent this last year pressuring China on its carbon emissions and working towards a Copenhagen accord.

Warnings from China that we need a diplomatic solution for Iran and no new sanctions have scared the Obama administration into a yearlong holding pattern. But Russian and Chinese veto threats are nothing new.

Russia and China are experts at whipping the media into an anti-sanctions frenzy. Obama and Rice don’t seem to understand that Russia and China publicly speak one way but rarely stand behind their threats when an issue like Iran is put to a Security Council vote.

Neither China nor Russia will call for a vote on Iran sanctions but they can be forced to a veto. Rice should have required a discussion on the Iran issue last year and called for a sanctions vote when the original Obama deadline passed last summer.

Team Obama has spent the year dithering and hoping that doing nothing would allow the opposition inside Iran time to peacefully bring down Ahmadinejad’s government. But while the Obama team nervously talks among themselves, they have missed the opportunity to make the Internet available to the thousands of student protesters inside Iran or to implement harsh sanctions on the government that could push Ahmadinejad over the cliff and deliver the fatal blow to his presidency.

The Obama administration should cease making the old, tired claim that American involvement would undermine the opposition by playing into the hands of Ahmadinejad’s recycled message that this is an American CIA coup on his presidency.

We are well past the point of the Arab world thinking thousands of Iranian students and opposition leaders are in the streets of Tehran because of American enticement.

Many in the Arab world would privately cheer if Ahmadinejad’s government fell or if the Iranian nuclear sites were destroyed. The lack of Obama leadership and assistance to the opposition inside Iran is now prohibiting the fall of a dictatorship on the brink.

When White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs complains more often about former Vice President Dick Cheney than about Ahmadinejad, it sends the wrong message to the Iranians, Chinese, and Russians.

Team Obama’s robotic and bland pronouncements citing general themes and recycled talking points from the Bush Administration will not stop Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon.

It is time for even Obama to admit that he failed to convince the Iranians to give up their illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons and has failed to motivate the cheering crowds of Germany and Egypt to do more than celebrate the kinder, gentler, weaker American president.

There may still be time to make sure Iran doesn’t acquire the nuclear weapons that they will surely use, but it will require quick and sustained action by the White House.

An immediate combination of paralyzing U.N. sanctions, aggressive support for the struggling opposition inside Iran, firm pressure on Europeans to implement the current financial sanctions, and a credible use of a military deterrence must all be realized — and soon.

Richard Grenell was one of the longest-serving press spokesmen at the United Nations.


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