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The Iran Challenge By: Matthew Continetti
The Weekly Standard | Thursday, June 12, 2008


The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race, and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.

--Barack Obama, June 4, 2008

So begins the great transformation, whereby a dovish primary candidate mutates into a (moderately) hawkish nominee.

It's a tall order in Obam a's case. He must prove that a 46-year-old senator, a talented Chicago pol with a thin résumé and without national security or executive experience, is a plausible commander in chief. He must downplay the kumbaya rhetoric and irresponsible national security votes, and talk tough while inventing shifty rationalizations for prior weakness.

Exhibit A: Obama's June 4 address, quoted above, to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Read it alongside John McCain's speech to AIPAC, and you'll be struck by the similarities. Both candidates pledged to prevent a second Holocaust. Both said Iran is a major strategic threat. And both promised to deal with this threat through U.N. and non-U.N. sanctions, divestment, and--if necessary--force. But don't be fooled. There are major differences.

McCain told AIPAC, correctly, that for decades negotiations with Iran have failed to win concessions from the regime. This failure has been bipartisan and transatlantic. President Clinton pledged major inducements for Iran to liberalize. He got nothing.

President Bush has offered more bounty to Iran in exchange for a suspension of uranium enrichment. Still nothing. The Europeans have been talking to the Iranians for years. They have zilch to show for it. McCain wants to increase pressure until the Iranians understand that their interest lies in reaching a diplomatic solution.

Obama, though, wants his approach to begin with "aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions."

We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress. Sounds nice. Obama, moreover, is willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing, if--and only if--it can advance the interests of the United States.

That's a pretty big "if," coming from the guy who has said he would meet without preconditions in the first year of his administration with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea.

If his non-precondition-conditions are met, what will Obama say to the "appropriate Iranian leader"? This:

If you abandon your dangerous nuclear program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, there will be meaningful incentives--including the lifting of sanctions, and political and economic integration with the international community.

Thus Obama would make an offer that the Iranians have repeatedly rejected, except he would do it in person--at a historic summit, a propaganda coup for the mullahs. Only after they refused the offer--again--would Obama "ratchet up the pressure." We would be back where we started, except the Iranian regime would have denied the leader of the Great Satan's demands in person. This would not only be embarrassing. It would mean more leverage for Tehran.

Obama's "responsible, phased redeployment of our troops from Iraq" would also redound to Iran's strategic benefit. The policy would erase the security and political gains the United States and its Iraqi allies have made in the last year and a half. It would lead to more violence, not less, and to a weaker Iraqi government, not a stronger one. It would breathe new life into the radicals--many sponsored by the Iranian regime--who seek a failed state in Iraq. And Tehran would quickly move to fill any power vacuum that the Americans left behind in Iraq.

Why on earth, then, would the supreme leader of Iran, seeing the U.S. president knocking on his door--a supplicant--and U.S. troops retreating from Iraq, be moved to negotiate with the United States? By what strategic calculus would he determine that that would be the time to give up his chips?

Ah, but we have entered the Obama zone, where conditions are not conditions, where Ahmadinejad is and is not really the leader of Iran, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guards isn't a terrorist group one year but is the next, where Iran is simultaneously a "tiny" and a "grave" threat, and where the absence of American combat troops in Iraq actually increases U.S. influence in the Middle East.

Here, doves are reborn as hawks, and liberals are turned into "pragmatists." And somehow the security of America and her allies will be enhanced by inadvertently promoting the interests of her enemies.




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