Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dithering at the fork

Yogi Berra once said "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." After the rank absurdity of transforming two options into one passes, the road and the split suggest something about the inevitability of events in life. We must choose a road and go forward. Time permits no other option. We can try to go back the way we came, but since we have already travelled this road, the view can't help but be different however similar we may think it is or wish it to be.

Like the road and the fork in it, we like to think nothing is certain in life, but death and taxes, inuring ourselves to the constant fragile flux that compromises human existence. However, there are a good many other things that present themselves as inevitable. We like to think that we have free will, self -determination and such, but channels of thought and conditioning run long and deep.

Take the current situation with the Iranian Nuclear standoff and Barrack Obamas' response to it. Even with the Iranian government lying about its' nuclear program, the President wants a relationship based on "mutual respect." Why anyone would want to respect such a bunch of flagrant deceivers seems rather mysteriously masochistic. You are just asking for more abuse. Unfortunately, this diplomatic dance with Iran is nothing novel as a return to the Presidency of James Earl Carter shows.

Let us return to those dejected days of the Carter Presidency. In the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis, President Carter said to the Iranians "The people of the United States desire to have relations with Iran based on equality, mutual respect, and friendship." [italics mine] Then Carter "approved of the the establishment of a UN commission to investigate American iniquities against Iran. Of course, the Iranians flung that back in his face. In fact, this actually was Carter meeting a demand of the kidnappers. Earlier, "[kidnappers] insisted that the president apologize for a long list American crimes against the Iranian people, beginning with the overthrow of Mossadegh."

Wait. Didn't Barrack Obama just apologize for U.S. involvement in overthrowing Mossadegh in his recent Cairo speech? Apologizing to Iran today is just as ineffective as it was in 1979. Barrack seems to believe that craven banter with this same regime will bear some kind of diplomatic fruit. This man rooted in the "fierce urgency of now" seems completely oblivious to the past history of relations with Iran.

Also, the rather limp wristed condemnation of Iran at the G-20 in Pittsburgh, highlights a leader with seemingly little cooperation with his allies. When chastising Iran, the French and British leaders both had much stronger words than Obama. Perhaps this mousy public performance was inadvertent. Whatever the intention, the effect is unmistakable. Obama seems wholly reticent about confronting Iran. In this episode, Obama bears all the hallmarks of a weak and inexperienced leader dithering before making a big decision.

Barrack Obama, man of deadlines, (health care, Gitmo, though now ditched) seems to have none when it comes to stopping Iran get nuclear weapons. It also appears the Iranians see this fickle trait in Obama. The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Ali Akbar Salehi said of the U.S. /European denouncing Iran secret plant, "Their embarrassing reaction and their unbalanced response has shocked us." This faux outrage is part of the familiar U.S./Iran diplomatic dance. After the Iranians hoodwink the U.S. at the upcoming negotiations in Geneva, Obama will either crow about some toothless agreement the Iranians have signed or try to push sanctions the Europeans probably won't back. Either way Tehran wins by gaining more time to work on the bomb.

So what did Jimmy do? As talks endlessly dragged on, Carter had reached a critical point in the negotiations with hostage takers. The Iranians were completely uncooperative. Since an offer of admission of American "crimes" didn't bring about the desired result, Carter finally acted. "He severed ties with Tehran, froze its American assets and prohibited the import of Iranian oil into the United States. Proposals for imposing a broader boycott on Iran failed to gain international support, however, even from the Europeans." We know that these actions also had no effect on the radical Muslim government in Iran, which led to the disastrous rescue attempt code named Operation Eagle Claw.

In a parallel way today, Obama and the Europeans simply have no leverage of a threatening nature with Iran . And without a stick, a carrot is simply a morsel to be stolen without further care by the thief. Even at this late date the carrot is still available for the taking. As the Washington Post reports (Iran pressured over new plant) "As an inducement for cooperation, the United States and other powers have offered economic and diplomatic incentives if Iran reins in its nuclear ambitions." So Obama is reduced to the role of an almost comic salesman begging the Iranians to take the deal for cash, clout or maybe even a NEW CAR!!! (GM of course)

This bribe strategy is familiar too. Remember the framework agreement negotiated with North Korea in 1992 to get rid of their budding nuclear weapons program. That payoff that failed was negotiated by none other than Jimmy Carter. North Korea got two light water reactors and 500,000 tons of oil per year all free, courtesy of Uncle Sam. That really worked didn't it? And now North Korea is a nuclear parts supplier to Iran.

This really shows one rather blatant theme of Democratic foreign policy: the bribe. At one point during difficult negotiations during the Vietnam War, LBJ turned to an aide said "Can't we just buy Ho Chi Minh a dam or something?" The habits of machine politics run deep, even into the arena of foreign policy. Unfortunately, these methods don't translate well abroad because these recipients of cash, unlike domestic money grubbers never vote and can't do much for those who do. After all, the cash or favor leaves the United States and contact with the recipient after this usually revolves around one sentence: send more money.

The nuclear standoff with Iran will follow the same path. After much posturing, Obama will try the payoff as well. He'll dress it up as artful, very slow diplomacy in an attempt to forestall an Israeli attack. If the Iranians test a bomb before the talks have ended, then the military option may be off the table entirely and it's hello nuclear blackmail. If they are still some way off to a bomb, the Iranians may even take the cash and fabulous parting gifts and all sides are happy. The Iranians continue work on the bomb, Obama nominates himself for the Nobel Peace Prize and Israel is left facing the nuts working on nukes. Like the Czechs in 1938, Israel faces the threat directly and is being treated as little more than a bargaining chip by Obama doing his best Neville Chamberlain imitation. At the fork, Obama will choose baksheesh over force and it probably won't even slow down the Iranians quest for a bomb.

But what would Jimmy do? Let go back one last time. It is the end of the Carter Presidency. The hostage crisis has effectively brought down a president. Defeated in the election of 1980 by a gaping margin of 440 electoral votes, Carter had one duty left: the payoff. Thus, " he offered to pay the modern form of tribute by unfreezing Iranian bank accounts in the United States and indemnifying Iran from future lawsuits by the prisoners. Temporarily pacified, the Iranians ended their captives' 444-day incarceration . . ."

The payoff is coming. So watch for it. I think another Yogiism is due here. "It's like deja vu all over again."

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