The CROWDS chanting “Death to America” at annual rallies across Iran were the largest ever last month. The outpouring of hate against the United States wasn’t canceled, or even toned down, by the new Iranian president, the purportedly “moderate, reasonable” Hassan Rouhani. Far from it. “Iran’s propaganda machine had been working for weeks ahead of the ceremonies to mobilize maximum public participation,” reported the BBC Persian service on Nov. 4. The resulting demonstrations were “unprecedented in their scale and scope.”
This is the regime that Barack Obama has been so ardent to engage, and that John Kerry was secretly wooing as far back as 2011.
Less than three weeks after Tehran was whipping anti-US hostility to a record high, Kerry concluded an interim nuclear deal in Geneva that was so favorable to the Islamic Republic that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, delightedly claimed victory. As well he might, since the Great Satan and its negotiating partners had, for all intents and purposes, conceded Iran’s longstanding diplomatic objective: international recognition of its right to enrich uranium. Kerry denied it, but the text of the deal stipulates — not once, but twice — that a final arrangement with Iran will “involve a mutually defined enrichment program.”
Not to worry, Kerry assured the deal’s critics: He and his fellow negotiators are “resolute” about not letting Iran acquire nuclear weapons. What’s more, he added, “Foreign Minister Zarif emphasized that they don’t intend to do this, and the supreme leader has indicated there is a fatwa which forbids them to do this.”
Sound familiar? It wasn’t so long ago that Kerry was similarly encouraged by Syrian tyrant Bashar Assad’s supposed commitment to reform. When, even more recently, Assad brazenly defied the Obama administration’s “red line” by using chemical weapons, Kerry was certainly “resolute” about the need for a forceful response. “Nothing today is more serious,” he passionately declared. But the forceful response never came. The administration backed down, weapons inspectors were dispatched instead, and Assad was transformed from an international war criminal to just another unsavory negotiating partner.
With that Syrian fiasco so vivid and fresh, it’s not surprising that the nuclear deal with Iran has drawn such strong — and bipartisan — skepticism. Obama and Kerry keep insisting that they aren’t naive. If the next six months show that the Iranians aren’t serious about abandoning the quest for nuclear weapons, they say, the sanctions relaxed by the Geneva agreement will be reimposed. “We can crank that dial back up,” Obama says. “We don’t have to trust them.”
So why on earth is the administration urging Congress not to pass tough new conditional sanctions that would take effect if Iran cheats on the interim deal, or if it refuses afterward to negotiate a permanent deal shutting down its nuclear weapons program for good? Surely the best way to put teeth in the president’s threat — surely the best way to keep the pressure on Tehran — is to have those new sanctions ready and waiting.
But that assumes that the administration’s priority is to ensure that Iran never gets the bomb. It isn’t.
Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, Kerry urged Congress to hold off on any new sanctions until the six-month Geneva agreement has run its course. “I don’t want to give the Iranians a public excuse to flout the agreement,” Kerry told the committee. Brandishing the threat of new sanctions might make our partners think “that we’re not an honest broker and that we didn’t mean it when we said that sanctions were not an end in and of themselves, but a tool to pressure the Iranians into a diplomatic solution.”
But the goal of sanctions wasn’t simply diplomacy. It was to squeeze Iran into abandoning its quest for nuclear weapons, and complying with six UN Security Council resolutions requiring it to end all uranium enrichment. There is no reason to believe Iran has any intention of doing so. There is every reason to believe it aims to keep doing what it has been doing all along: moving forward, by any means necessary, toward a goal it has never backed away from. The mullahs rely on the gullibility of self-satisfied naifs like Obama and Kerry, who take pride in their willingness to negotiate with even the most hateful regimes — and for whom diplomacy always seems to matter more than getting the right diplomatic results.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.