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All Carrots, No Sticks By: Douglas Stone
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Despite claims to the contrary, the use of force by the United States to prevent the mullahs in Teheran from possessing nuclear weapons is now effectively off the table.  During the presidential campaign, President Obama assured the American people that an Iranian atomic weapon would be “unacceptable,” but unless Israel takes action, the President has entrapped himself in negotiations that will not move these hardened jihadist revolutionaries but will only provide them enough time to enrich the uranium they need for their first atomic weapon.

Even if eschewing military action were not a matter of conviction among Obama’s foreign policy mandarins, the Iranians know that President has become so heavily invested in negotiations that it is now up to them whether other, incompatible policy options have been irretrievably excluded, especially the resort to war by the U.S. and possibly even Israel.

The Administration has made noises about tougher sanctions, but in all likelihood they’re a pro forma display for our allies amounting to little more than the phantom sensations of a lost limb or the twitching of a dying corpse. 

While “carrots and sticks” is attractive rhetorically, they are a crude and unwieldy device.  Moreover, there are no carrots more appealing to the Mullahs than possession of nuclear weapons, and the sticks of harsher sanctions might only be perceived by the Administration as potentially jeopardizing negotiations.  In any case, sanctions have only worked -- and worked over the course of many years -- in the unique cases of Rhodesia and South Africa, when the Communist world happily supported a guilty, moralistic West in ending white minority rule.

As for negotiations, the likely dynamic is clear: So sure are the Iranians of American reluctance to use force that they are free to initially react with disdain and continue to indulge in their hard-line anti-American rhetoric -- even as President Ahmadinejad cleverly hedges his bets with hints of negotiations.  In the unlikely event that the Administration becomes frustrated in the pursuit of negotiations -- or with the negotiations, themselves -- the mullahs can shift gears (if that’s what it takes to maintain power and their nuclear program) and become suitably emollient -- and the U.S. will have no choice but to respond favorably.

Had Obama not treated the issue of negotiations with Iran as a centerpiece of his campaign, he might have room to maneuver.  No longer.  Meaningless insistence on the need for “preparations” aside, the way he has positioned himself, his desperate desire for sympathy in the Muslim world and the appointment of a special envoy means that the President is locked into negotiations and only negotiations as a promise not only to the American people but to a waiting, fearful world.

The crucial issue is time.  Diplomacy, like law, is a slow-motion business.  A commitment to negotiations with Iran implies a time frame that will necessarily extend beyond the date various national intelligence services say that the Iranians can go nuclear.

A recent report to the French government produced by its intelligence bureaucracy and based on information revealed by the Iranian government itself (and thus not based on Western projections) concludes that the Iranians will have enriched enough uranium to produce an atomic weapon no later than the end of next year (Assembly of a bomb by the Iranians isn’t the question; the remaining piece of the puzzle is obtaining enough enriched uranium.).  American intelligence chiefs recently judged a year or so.  And Israeli intelligence believes the Iranians could go nuclear before the end of this year.

That’s why Israel’s likely new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in an interview in early February with the Jerusalem Post, expressed the hope that President Obama would set a time limit on negotiations. It’s a vain hope:  It would be regarded as disingenuous at best, a betrayal at worst -- and not least by our diplomats in Foggy Bottom and a large part of the bleating mainstream media. 

The Europeans have been negotiating with Iran over uranium enrichment since at least 2003.  The more drawn-out the better, as the centrifuges continue to spin.  And so it will be with the U.S.:  The Iranians will offer the occasional concession and invite further discussions that would prove irresistible to American and world opinion and thereby make it more difficult -- if not impossible -- even for the Israelis to act as “spoilers” of their primary ally’s efforts and intervene militarily.

Repeated intelligence surprises over the years about Iranian intentions and abilities -- including a report a few days ago that the Iranians had more enriched uranium than expected -- mean that there will be no advance warning that a nuclear weapon is imminent so that the U.S. may break off negotiations and seriously contemplate military action (Covert efforts begun in 2008 to delay enrichment efforts are at best tenuous -- and may be vetoed by Obama as endangering negotiations).  The mullahs will simply announce a fait accompli, with all that means in terms of proliferation, nuclear blackmail and potential war. 

Still, the Administration presses on in the belief that Iran can be persuaded to abandon its nuclear weapons program; that even when the president couldn’t reach agreement with their democratic opposition among the Republican Party over the recent economic stimulus package they can talk sweet reason to the hard and cynical men in Teheran; this despite the Iranians’ longtime commitment to worldwide Islamic revolution, and a history of murder and oppression of their own citizens -- and involvement as the world’s primary state-sponsor of terror. 

In the late 1970s, Andrew Young, President Carter’s Ambassador to the United Nations, told the world that the Ayatollah Khomeini was “some kind of a saint.”  But apparently Khomeini didn’t get the word: He supported the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and instituted a murderous theocracy, and now we’re facing the consequences of those events -- and with the same misguided thinking by the spiritual and intellectual heirs to Andrew Young and President Carter.

“Mankind is unteachable,” Winston Churchill would say.  Unteachable and, one might add, with a bottomless capacity for self-deception.  Maybe we’ll be assured that even with nuclear weapons Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei will turn out to be some kind of a saint. 

And maybe it won’t matter that the Obama Administration has for all intents and purposes taken force off the table as an option to prevent a nuclear Iran.

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