Burying Our Heads in the Sand of Iran

As the news out of the Middle East goes from bad to worse, we have no choice but to learn – once again – what a mistake it is to ignore (unlearn) the lessons of history.

Take the case of Iran. Iran is the main source of the 200 missiles a day Hamas has recently been firing at Israel. Both the new Fajr-5 missiles and the new Ayub drone that are being devastatingly used to destabilize the Middle East are the result of Iranian technology. The IAEA reports that Iran is enriching uranium at a pace that would bring it to Israel’s “red line” in just over seven months. The Institute for Science and International Security says Iran’s total output of low-enriched uranium since 2007 could potentially be used for six or seven nuclear weapons if refined much further. Iran still actively supports, with weapons, money and training, terrorists and terror-sponsoring regimes. Human rights violations within Iran are severe.

Last week, Iranian Vice President Rahimi declared, “We will break grasping hands of Obama and we will be successful in bypassing sanctions.” This is the thanks Obama gets for engaging in obsequious outreach to Iran’s repressive leaders; for his non-response to the cries of brave young Iranian protestors for support; for speaking up for Iran’s “right” to peaceful nuclear technology; for acknowledging Ahmadinejad as the legitimate, elected leader, even after his brutal crackdown on massive protests against rigged elections; for relentlessly pursuing negotiations no matter how many times Iran obfuscated and deceived; and for pursuing a minimalist response to the Iranian nuclear program.

This is the thanks we always get for placating totalitarians. This is our history.

Post World War II presidents knew the historical lesson all too well. The attempt to use negotiation to solve the problem of Hitler’s military mobilization and bellicosity had been futile. While England and France negotiated, Hitler continued on with his plans, violated every agreement, and played us for fools. By encouraging the deception that Germany was amenable to some ultimate compromise, negotiations lessened the gravity with which Germany’s expansionist activities were seen. From Hitler’s meteoric rise, we learned that we ignore the ideology and regime-type of others to our own peril. Extremist ideas foster fanatics so beholden to ideology that attempting to use negotiations to stop them can be like placing a band aid on an open wound.

Although negotiation is an indispensable tool of foreign policy, extremists use negotiations to buy time for their deadly aims. Following Hitler’s lead, they use words like rights, fairness and equality to legitimize their regimes and to literally and figuratively disarm us. Michael Rubin documented the Clinton administration’s persistent policy of engagement with the Taliban and its determination to hold onto that policy in the face of Taliban hostility and obfuscation: Diplomats met with the Taliban every few weeks and “what resulted was theater.” “The Taliban would stonewall on terrorism but would also dangle just enough hope to keep diplomats calling and forestall punitive strategies.” They played to our cultural relativism by talking about Afghan ‘custom.’ Engagement allowed the Taliban a reprieve so that they could better prepare and arm for an attack. 

Iran has learned the lessons of history better than we. Iran agrees to negotiate, then violates negotiated agreements and refuses to negotiate, then – when the international response is about to get strong – agrees to negotiate again. Facing the possibility of an Israeli airstrike, Iran agreed to new negotiations (having backed out of previous ones) last spring. Even though she had been fooled by Iran multiple times, Secretary Clinton welcomed the negotiations, but warned that Iran’s “window of opportunity” for creating a peaceful solution would not “remain open forever.” Apparently, that window will, however, stay open for a perilously long time. Even though those talks fell apart, Reuters now reports: “Obama and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator this week have separately made clear their desire to resume diplomacy that has been deadlocked since a meeting between the six world powers and Iran ended without a breakthrough in June.” 

 **Later this week, I will post on why 2008 was exactly the wrong time to ramp up engagement with the repressive Iranian regime and why the time was right, instead – given internal evaporation of support for the regime – to combine strong geopolitical pressure with a strong moral stand.