Friday, September 11, 2009

Iran Outmaneuvers U.S. Government: Obama Scores Three "Own Goals"

By Barry Rubin

President Barack Obama didn’t understand how quickly and easily his diplomatic “generosity” and readiness to make concessions becomes a trap or also how his self-professed reluctance to do anything tough turns into a terrible vulnerability. Now he faces being outmaneuvered by Iran.

The Tehran regime took three of Obama’s policies—engagement with enemies, global nuclear disarmament, and partnership over leadership—and has turned them against the U.S. government.

The score today is Iran: 3, United States; 0. And all three of Iran’s scores were actually U.S. “own goals.” For non-football—or if you wish soccer--fans, that’s when you kick the ball into your own goal scoring a point for the other team.

First, Obama has talked a great deal about engaging Iran, claiming this would show the world America’s good intentions and thus clear the way for tougher sanctions. By the time sanctions are raised, if they are, the Obama administration will have wasted all of 2009 on this process.

But guess what? The Iranians can play that game also. At the last minute, Iran came up with an offer to meet, obviously just a stalling tactic. Some in the American media fell for the trick, with the Los Angeles Times saying that it didn’t matter if the ploy was a trick the United States had to play along. Now that’s judo in action.

There’s more, however. Second, the Iranian regime said that it wouldn’t talk about its own nuclear program but proposed instead that all nuclear weapons in the world be eliminated.

Now where did they get this idea? Why, from Obama himself of course! He proposed this in his Cairo speech (and forgive me for reminding you I warned that this would happen) and he is about to chair a UN session on this very point. In fact, at Obama’s request, the session he’s running was changed from a debate focussing on immediate nuclear weapons' threats (Iran and North Korea to a general one about ridding the world of nuclear weapons. The Iranians will have a field day outmaneuvering him on this issue at the UN session.

And that’s not all! For this credibility through engagement thing works both ways. When Obama says the United States must show the world that it tried to engage Iran, he’s being not just Eurocentric but Western Eurocentric. There’s a flip side. Now Iran is offering to talk and the United States is refusing. This will make the United States look quite worse, very hypocritical in the Muslim-majority world and other places outside of Western Europe.

Third, the Russians accepted it. Jumping at the chance for an excuse not to raise sanctions, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said there won’t be any new sanctions because he thinks the Iranian proposals are just dandy and more time should be spent (wasted) in more meetings.

Incidentally, as I’ve previously reported, the Russians have been talking this way for months. Yet while the danger was clear, the Obama Administration ignored it, pretending all was well with Moscow. There was never any chance of the Russians, or China for that matter, supporting the U.S. strategy. Isn’t Obama going to look like a fool or failure when his grand strategy against Iran is shown to be hollow?

In the end, though, the Obama administration decided to step into the trap and negotiate with Iran.  Why? Here's the key statement:

"..Officials said their expectations were extremely low. They also said their willingness to proceed was based in part on a recognition that some form of talks had to take place before the United States could make a case for imposing far stronger sanctions on Iran.

“`We’ll be looking to see if they are willing to engage seriously on these issues,'” said a State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley. “`If we have talks, we will plan to bring up the nuclear issue.''”

But why do there have  be some kind of talks? Who is going to care? How long are these going to take, no doubt well into 2010. Also note that Crowley has to mention the nucler issue as only one of those being discussed. The Iranian regime will use all sorts of other issues as distractions.

Moreover we should remember this is a post-stolen election regime which is putting peaceful reformers on trial, and whose hardline defense minister is wanted for terrorism. Even if the United States would have been perfectly justified in carrying out talks with the Iranian government in the past, this is the kind of government which should be boycotted.

Remember that any government can have its policy fail but what's really a mistake is to pursue a policy which any serious and objective observer can see well ahead of time is inevitably going to fail.

So far the U.S. government is losing the game on own goals.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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