Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Obama, Iran and the 1939 Syndrome

by P. David Hornik

On Tuesday EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced that the group of six global powers—permanent UN Security Council members the U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany—were resuming nuclear talks with Iran at an unspecified time and place.

She announced it just as Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in Washington trying to convince the U.S. leadership that neither diplomacy nor sanctions were coming anywhere near stopping Iran’s push to nuclear weapons.

Ashton had earlier—on February 14—received a proposal for talks from Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. On Tuesday she said, “Today I have replied to Dr. Jalili’s letter….” What opportune timing.

And what a further blow to Israel.

Typical headlines have been saying Netanyahu told President Obama on Monday that Israel hasn’t yet taken a decision on attacking Iran. Yet, as described here and here, an “unnamed American intelligence official” has conveyed a different impression to Israel’s Channel 2 news.

Channel 2 reported on Monday night that the official said, “U.S. intelligence services believe that, in principle, Israel has already made the decision to bomb Iran.” According to Channel 2, the official warned that such an attack would entail thousands of casualties and spark a regional war or even World War III—in short, an all-out catastrophe. An official Israeli source dismissed these statements as “scare-mongering and psychological warfare.”

Just as there is a dissonance between the mainstream version—which says Israel hasn’t yet decided—and this apparent desperate attempt to bypass the Israeli leadership and scare its population silly via its most popular news channel, there is a dissonance between Obama’s words this week and what we read elsewhere.

In his AIPAC speech on Sunday: “I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy—backed by pressure—to succeed.”

And in Tuesday night’s news conference: “[Iran] understand[s] that the world community means business. To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss…how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful.”

Meanwhile IAEA chief Yukiya Amano says Iran has “tripled” its monthly production of 20-percent-enriched uranium since the IAEA’s previous report in November. That was the report that was seen as dramatically confirming Israel’s insistence over the years that Iran had never stopped working on the bomb.

Amano also expressed serious concern about the IAEA being denied, again, access to Parchin—the site where Iran has “built a large containment chamber” to “conduct high-explosives tests” that the IAEA considers “strong indicators” of nuclear-weapons development. That was according to November’s report. What’s going on in the chamber now? No one knows.

No wonder administration officials are so worried Israel will attack and trying to scare the Israeli people out of their wits about what will happen if it does. Seemingly it would make more sense for the administration—and the Western world as a whole—to get seriously scared about Parchin and drop the hang-up with Israel.

On Tuesday it was reported that Iran now says it will let the IAEA into Parchin—at an unspecified date. Even if that transpires, it will obviously be after Iran has had enough time to “clean” the site.

But never fear, as Obama said yet again Tuesday night: “What we’ve been able to do…is mobilize unprecedented crippling sanctions on Iran. Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way.”

Two problems with that. First, regarding Iran’s nuke program, they’re not having the slightest effect, as the tripling of uranium production since November—among other things—attests.

And second, while there has indeed been some ramping-up of sanctions since November so that ordinary Iranians—not the regime—have been hit by them, both the U.S. administration and the Europeans are leisurely about the pace.

As for the Europeans, their embargo on Iranian oil won’t even kick in until July. And as Bret Stephens noted in the Wall Street Journal, it was Obama who “fought tooth-and-nail against the very sanctions on Iran for which he now seeks to reap political credit.” And it’s Obama who is still delaying the sanctions on Iran’s central bank that the Senate passed 100-0 in December.

Again that dissonance—between the IAEA’s evident alarm and the U.S. and European governments’ ongoing nonchalance.

And if anyone still doubted that it was nonchalance—as well as delusion, cynicism, and denial—today’s decision by the Western powers to return to talks with Iran should put those doubts to rest. The Iran that has transparently been using such talks as delaying tactics for a decade; the Iran that regularly threatens another state with annihilation; the Iran that installs thousands of new, ever-more-sophisticated centrifuges in its underground Fordow facility as the Ashtons and Obamas of this world speak deplorable nonsense.

Israel’s Ynet News reports that Israeli “state officials” were “disappointed” with the Netanyahu-Obama meeting and quotes them saying:

The Iranians are charging at nuclear capabilities at full force and even the IAEA is falling in line with the Israeli intelligence evaluations. That is why the U.S. stance is problematic…. Right now we are certain the [administration] won’t do anything and we need to decide what to do…. The[administration] want[s] oil prices not to go up because it’s bad for their economy…. You have to consider the fate of the Western world…. It’s better to pay more for oil this year than to pay the cost for a nuclear Iran.

While not making a direct comparison, psychologically the current atmosphere in the West is the same as the one in 1939. Westerners who sought peace and coexistence had options but at the moment of truth they chose to sacrifice Czechoslovakia. We’ve been there. While being very careful with this analysis, we have the same psychological phenomenon.

It’s indeed a grim analysis but all too congruent with the facts. Consider:

  • Obama and the Europeans do not really believe Iran can now be brought around by talks to cry uncle and give up the nuclear program in which it has invested enormously for decades.
  • They do know that by resuming “diplomacy” with Iran, or at least putting it back on the agenda, they further isolate Israel as the lone “hawk” and slap it with a rogue-status—a destroyer of “peace”—if it does decide to act.
  • Hence a collusion—tacit or not—of common interests emerges between the West and Iran of creating a pretense of diplomatic activity and thereby curbing Israel’s options.

Which means Netanyahu faces a true test as, once again, the Western world seeks abjectly for the easy way out.

P. David Hornik


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

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