Sunday, October 21, 2012

Obama's October Surprise? Appeasement of Iran (Updated)

The New York Times (h/t reports:
The United States and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials, setting the stage for what could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran.

Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election, a senior administration official said, telling their American counterparts that they want to know with whom they would be negotiating.

News of the agreement — a result of intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term — comes at a critical moment in the presidential contest, just two weeks before Election Day and the weekend before the final debate, which is to focus on national security and foreign policy.

It has the potential to help Mr. Obama make the case that he is nearing a diplomatic breakthrough in the decade-long effort by the world’s major powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but it could pose a risk if Iran is seen as using the prospect of the direct talks to buy time.

It is also far from clear that Mr. Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, would go through with the negotiation should he win election. Mr. Romney has repeatedly criticized the president as showing weakness on Iran and failing to stand firmly with Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat.

The White House denied that a final agreement had been reached. “It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections,” Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said Saturday evening. He added, however, that the administration was open to such talks, and has “said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”

. . . The question of how best to deal with Iran has political ramifications for Mr. Romney as well. While he has accused Mr. Obama of weakness, he has given few specifics about what he would do differently.

Moreover, the prospect of one-on-one negotiations could put Mr. Romney in an awkward spot, since he has opposed allowing Iran to enrich uranium to any level — a concession that experts say will probably figure in any deal on the nuclear program.

. . . “It would be unconscionable to go to war if we haven’t had such discussions,” said R. Nicholas Burns, who led negotiations with Iran as under secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration.

. . . when asked for a response on Saturday, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, said the administration had not informed Israel, and that the Israeli government feared Iran would use new talks to “advance their nuclear weapons program.”

. . . Dennis B. Ross, who oversaw Iran policy for the White House until early 2012, says one reason direct talks would make sense after the election is that the current major-power negotiations are bogged down in incremental efforts, which may not achieve a solution in time to prevent a military strike.

Mr. Ross said the United States could make Iran an “endgame proposal,” under which Tehran would be allowed to maintain a civil nuclear power industry. Such a deal would resolve, in one stroke, issues like Iran’s enrichment of uranium and the monitoring of its nuclear facilities.
Michael Ledeen at PJMedia makes some observations regarding the NY Times piece (h/t Instapundit). Note the involvement of Valeria Jarrett as one of the key negotiators. Jarrett officially is merely an advisor to Obama (not a diplomat), although she functions as the de facto President as we've learned from the Ulsterman Report. Notably, she is also Iranian by birth. Anyway, Mr. Ludeen writes:
Two of the three assertions in that lead paragraph are demonstrably false. One-on-one negotiations have been going on for years (most recently, according to my friend “Reza Kahlili,” in Doha, where, he was told, Valerie Jarrett and other American officials recently traveled for the latest talks). The only news here is that the talks would no longer be secret. And the notion that only diplomacy can avert “a military strike on Iran” is fanciful. There are at least two other ways: sanctions may compel the regime to stop its nuclear weapons program, or the Iranian people may find a way to overthrow the regime, thereby (perhaps, at least) rendering military action unnecessary.

I rather suspect that you don’t have to do anything to avoid an American military strike on Iran. I can’t imagine an Obama administration authorizing a military attack. An administration that can barely bring itself to fly air cover in Libya, and can’t bring itself to take any serious action in Syria, strikes me as very unlikely to unleash our armed forces against the mullahs.

As for the claim that Iran has agreed to talks, even that seems problematic, as the Times admits further down in its story: “American officials said they were uncertain whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had signed off on the effort.” If there is no approval from the supreme leader, there is no agreement at all.
. . . At least one element of the Times story is true: the agreement, if there actually is one, is undoubtedly “a result of intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term.” Indeed, there were talks between Iranian officials and a representative of the Obama campaign, even before the inauguration. Secret talks between the two countries have been going on for decades, and I do not know of any American president from Jimmy Carter to the present who did not secretly pursue a deal with Tehran. (I participated in such talks in the mid-1980s during the Reagan administration.)

So what is happening? The most likely explanation is that Obama is still desperately seeking his grand bargain, the one that would validate his (and the Nobel Committee’s) claim to be a talented peace maker. That deal is not available, because the Iranians don’t want it. But he wants something to show for his efforts, so he settled for a big nothingburger: an agreement to talk some more.
And a warning from the New York Sun:
We’ve said it before, but let us say it again — the Sun is opposed to a diplomatic settlement with Iran’s regime. Such a settlement would leave the mullahs free to try to evade whatever limits they might, ostensibly, accept. It would leave them free to back Hezbollah and Hamas and other enemies of Israel. It would leave them free to deny democracy to their own citizens. And it would leave them free to threaten not only Israel but the rest of the Middle East and to work on an entente with Egypt, among others, to encircle the Jewish state.

. . . This is a moment for Mr. Romney to remember the lessons of Munich. It is not necessary to liken the mullahs to Hitler to keep in mind that the big mistake at Munich turned out to be not simply the deal that was made there, though that was mistake enough. The mistake was going to Munich in the first place. The mistake was in the delusion on the part of Prime Minister Chamberlain and Premier Daladier that there was no danger in simply talking with Hitler. In the end the talking was the appeasement.
There are a lot of machinations going on here, and we don't have all of the facts, but here are some considerations:

1.  Iran is never going to agree to giving up their nuclear program. It is an existential issue for Iran. As I noted in that post, David Goldman recently noted:

Iran's only chance of survival lies in annexing oil-rich regions on its borders: Bahrain, Iraq's Basra province, parts of Azerbaijan, and ultimately Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite-majority Eastern Province. That is why Iran needs nuclear weapons.
Thus, Iran's favored tactic would be the classic Muslim tactic of delay in order to rebuild its strength through a treaty that will allow it to allay its intended victim's fears while continuing with its nuclear program in secret. The difficulty Iran faces is that while it has successfully pulled this ruse on the United States before (and probably can continue to do so), it is less likely to work with Israel. Thus, it is forced to resort to a secondary tactic--delay by agreeing to negotiate, and hope that the U.S. will keep Israel from attacking. That this tactic has a good chance of working is made clear by the last diplomat to aid and abet "delay by treaty," Nicholas Burns, who is quoted in the NY Times piece as saying: “It would be unconscionable to go to war if we haven’t had such discussions.” I'm sure Chamberlain thought the same thing.

2.   Jarrett's personal involvement would suggest that the negotiations with Iran haven't been whether it gets to keep its nuclear program, but how to make this most advantageous to Obama's reelection. Ludeen suggests that, in this regard, it has been a failure. However, based on their past support for Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Obama's statement to Netanyahu this summer suggesting that Iran has a right to nuclear weapons, Obama's and Jarrett's goal may not be to get Iran to agree to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but may simply be to stoke a crises prior to the election.

3.  Related to my second point, Israel has been forced into making a critical decision on whether to attack (that this "leak" came just a few days after the optimum date to attack Iran is suggestive). It has just learned that, like pre-WWII Czechoslovakia, it will not even have a seat at the table. Israel does not trust Obama (and, hence, the U.S.). For all it knows, Obama has made a similar promise to Iran as to Putin--that he will have more flexibility after reelection. Thus, Israel may decide that is has no option but to launch an attack before the election in hopes that Obama will support Israel militarily--and neatly handing Obama the crises he may want.

Of course, I may be over analyzing the whole thing. Iran may be reluctant to come to an agreement in order to not lose face, or because of genuine disputes within its government. Obama may have wanted a foreign policy coup to boost his reelection prospects, but, like his efforts for bringing the Olympics to Chicago, simply failed.

(Update): I don't want to leave the impression that I think Obama would use a crises for something as extreme as delaying the election. All he needs is something that would distract the public from the election, and give lengthy (and positive) coverage to his administration.

However, thinking on the situation more, I came up with another explanation that may make more sense:

Obama wanted a foreign policy triumph (his October surprise), but the Iranians refused to cooperate. Jarrett attempted to talk them into doing something before the election in order to help Obama. The Iranians dug in their heels, and now refuse to make any decision before the election. A source, perhaps afraid of Obama taking some military action, leaked the information to the press to make it harder for Obama to justify a military intervention--at least before the election.

Okay, okay. This is all speculation. Like the line from "Dune," we are looking at "wheels within wheels" and we don't have all of the information.

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