One of the most prevalent criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy on Iran is that he appeased those conniving mullahs and allowed them to charge full speed ahead on a nuclear weapons program. This is the type of critique you hear from establishment DC think-tanks, Republicans in Congress, and right-wing talk shows. If only he had threatened Iran with imminent attack, they opine, the mullahs would have been deterred.
The problem is that none of this is true. Beyond a few empty words about diplomacy at the beginning of his administration, President Obama has chosen to pressure, bully, and threaten Iran virtually without deviation. And that is what has pushed Iran to continue to its defensive postures and to continue to enrich uranium (albeit in what remains a civilian nuclear program).
In his New York Times column today, Richard Cohen reviews Vali Nasr’s book The Dispensable Nation. Nasr criticizes Obama’s foreign policy with an inside perspective (he was “senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan until his death in December 2010”). His conclusions are revealing:
In Iran, Nasr demonstrates Obama’s deep ambivalence about any deal on the nuclear program. “Pressure,” he writes, “has become an end in itself.” The dual track of ever tougher sanctions combined with diplomatic outreach was “not even dual. It relied on one track, and that was pressure.” The reality was that, “Engagement was a cover for a coercive campaign of sabotage, economic pressure and cyberwarfare.”
Opportunities to begin real step-by-step diplomacy involving Iran giving up its low-enriched uranium in exchange for progressive sanctions relief were lost. What was Tehran to think when “the sum total of three major rounds of diplomatic negotiation was that America would give some bits and bobs of old aircraft in exchange for Iran’s nuclear program”?
Incidentally, these are the same conclusions myself and many others have been writing about at Antiwar.com for years.
The crux of the book, Cohen relates, is the following quote from Nasr: “It is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.”
“Nasr was led to the reluctant conclusion,” Cohen writes, “that the principal aim of Obama’s policies ‘is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion.'”
(See my earlier piece which quoted Nasr condemning the sanctions on Iran as ineffective and counterproductive.)