August 8, 2015

MICHAEL GERSON: Obama’s Bitter Endgame On Iran.

President Obama’s closing argument in favor of the Iran nuclear deal has become so exaggerated, so bitter, so simplified, that it risks parody.

He accuses his opponents of wanting another war — like the last one they caused in Iraq — and “making common cause” with Iranian hard-liners who chant “Death to America.” This goes beyond the questioning of patriotism. Critics of the agreement are, in Obama’s depiction, the bloodthirsty allies of theocratic butchers. Thanks so much, Mr. President, for your fair-minded words.

In the meantime, the Iranian regime has celebrated the nuclear agreement by defying it — blatantly sanitizing (with bulldozers) its military research site at Parchin and denying promised access to key scientists and military officials.

So: While Iran tests the limits of the deal — rubbing Obama’s face in the weakness of his enforcement position — he turns his anger on critics of the deal.

He’s surrendered to Iran, so the only victory he has a shot at is at home. Plus:

Obama administration foreign policy in the Middle East has always been, at least in part, a reaction against the George W. Bush years. Bush had policies that involved coercion if certain conditions were not met. Obama authentically believes this approach was mistaken. While occasionally making vague statements that “everything is on the table,” Obama has effectively removed the threat of force from U.S. nonproliferation policy in the Middle East. He has argued, again and again, that Americans are tired of conflict, tired of war and that he personally shares this sentiment.

This belief has informed years of inaction in the Syrian crisis, even as 200,000 people died and chemical weapons were employed against civilians. It informed the precipitous U.S. retreat from Iraq, which has required a partial return. And it informs Obama’s approach to Iran. In recent times, the United States had an Iran policy, particularly an anti-proliferation policy, that involved economic sanctions and the credible threat of force. Obama has an Iran policy that involves diplomatic engagement and the threat of an (unlikely) snapback of economic sanctions. The Iranians are taking full advantage of this shift to fill the vacuum left by a retreating United States.

By all means let’s recall a little history. In 2009, in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election, a Green Revolution raised the possibility of regime change — by popular uprising — in Iran. Obama did nothing to encourage it, for fear of undermining a nuclear deal. He effectively made common cause with Iranian hard-liners because they were at the negotiation table. And they are now rewarded with money, arms and global legitimacy. Whom would they regard as their real benefactor?

I have never believed that Obama views the mullahs as his enemy, or that he has the best interests of the United States in the region in mind.

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