Thursday, June 12, 2014

Iran's Rulers Say, "Yes, we can!"

by Clifford D. May

"America cannot do a damn thing."‎

A banner displaying that slogan ‎adorned the stage of an elegant mausoleum in Tehran where Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali ‎Khamenei appeared last week. Negotiations to conclude a deal ending Western sanctions on the ‎Islamic republic, the world's foremost sponsor of terrorism, in exchange for a verifiable halt to ‎its nuclear weapons program, are now in a critical phase with a new round of talks to begin ‎Monday in Geneva. At this moment, it would make sense for Iran's rulers to soothe and reassure ‎their American interlocutors. Why are they provoking and taunting them instead?‎

Because they can. Because they are convinced that the U.S. government is as feckless and self-‎deluding today as it was when "America cannot do a damn thing" was first proclaimed, 35 years ‎ago this fall, by Iran's revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, after his followers ‎seized the American Embassy in Tehran and took the diplomats working there hostage. ‎

Doing so was not just a violation of international law. It was a casus belli -- an act that ‎unquestionably would have justified going to war against the fledgling Islamic republic. Instead, U.S. ‎President Jimmy Carter launched a rescue attempt that failed. After that, he utilized diplomacy ‎to no effect.‎

Khomeini would go on to hold America's diplomats hostage for 444 days, the ‎remainder of Carter's tenure, releasing them only as Ronald Reagan was entering the White ‎House. An important lesson was taught: When the threat of force is credible, the use of force ‎often becomes unnecessary.‎

But teaching is not synonymous with learning. At the mausoleum last week, the current supreme ‎leader triumphantly told Iran's uniformed, religious and political elites that the military option ‎President Barack Obama has often said is "on the table" is now in the trash bin of history. A "military ‎attack is not a priority for Americans now," he said. "They have renounced the idea of any ‎military actions." That he believes this represents a defeat for the U.S. and a victory for the ‎Iranian revolution goes without saying.‎

In recent days, developments have bolstered his analysis. For example, on May 27, Obama ‎announced the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, a conflict he once called a ‎‎"necessary war" that he intended to win but which he now is content merely to "wind down." ‎‎(Would you really be surprised if, sometime after the next American presidential election, the ‎Taliban returned to power?)‎

A day later, Obama was at West Point disconnecting the dots linking Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Mali, ‎Kenya, Pakistan, India, Nigeria and so on. After all these years, he appears not to see the big ‎picture: a global jihad against the West with various actors -- Iran and al-Qaida most prominent ‎among them -- competing to lead it.‎

Next, the president released five senior Taliban officials, all of whom have ties to al-Qaida, in ‎exchange for an American soldier who had abandoned his post on June 30, 2009 and was ‎subsequently taken prisoner by those it was his duty to fight. Obama might at least have ‎made this deal with regret, acknowledging that a steep price was being paid, both by the U.S. ‎and, almost certainly, by those Afghans who have supported the American mission in their ‎country. Instead, he held a celebration in the Rose Garden. His national security advisor, Susan ‎Rice, exulted that it was "an extraordinary day for America ... a joyous day."‎

It needs to be emphasized: "Leave no soldier behind" is a commendable principle. But, like ‎most principles, it is neither absolute nor inviolable. To prove I'm right try this thought ‎experiment: If the Taliban had said they would trade Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl not for five Guantanamo Bay ‎detainees but just one -- and that one was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, would Obama have taken the deal? What if the Taliban had asked for no ‎detainees but a tactical nuke, or chemical weapons, or even just a dozen Apache helicopters? ‎Would anyone say that Obama had no choice but to agree -- because he could not leave Sgt. ‎Bergdahl behind? ‎

Other evidence that Khamenei has no doubt been mulling: In Syria, Obama drew a ‎red line, then erased it, then cut a diplomatic deal that saved dictator Bashar Assad, whose ‎regime he had vowed must end. Last week, Robert Ford, who months ago resigned as American ambassador to Syria, acknowledgedthat he ‎had done so because he could no longer support the administration's inept and damaging ‎policies. ‎

As if to illustrate his point, Secretary of State John Kerry respectfully asked Hezbollah, Iran's ‎Lebanon-based terrorist proxy, to help bring the war in Syria "to an end." And of course ‎Hezbollah will -- so long as the war ends with them as winners, and the U.S. diminished.‎

Khamenei also saw the Obama administration decide last week to support the Palestinian ‎‎"unity" government, which means American taxpayers will be funding Hamas, a designated ‎terrorist organization, one to which Iran has sent money and weapons, one openly committed to a ‎genocidal war against Israel, America's most reliable ally. ‎

Going back further, the supreme leader knows that despite many carrots and a few sticks, U.S. ‎negotiations with North Korea eventually ended with the hermit kingdom becoming nuclear-‎armed. The American diplomats who got beaten have either been promoted or given prestigious ‎academic positions. ‎

For all these decisions and failures there are explanations and justifications aplenty. But there ‎also is a pattern. America's enemies and allies perceive it. And they are responding.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security, and a foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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