Posted by Curt on 13 February, 2015 at 10:46 am. 4 comments already!


Michael Barone:

‘We will extend a hand if you are unwilling to unclench your fist,” President Obama proclaimed in his inaugural address in January 2009. He characterized those to whom this was addressed in negative terms, but the implication was that this president, unlike his predecessor, would be willing to negotiate with and make concessions to unfriendly nations.

It is a promise he has striven to keep, with Russia initially and Cuba more recently, but most of all to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The hand has been extended, more than once. But has the fist come unclenched?

That question has become increasingly uncomfortable and pressing as negotiations over nuclear weapons drag on. In a 9,000-word article in Mosaic magazine, former Bush staffer Michael Doran makes a powerful case that the answer is no — and that “a grand bargain with Iran” has been and remains the central goal of Obama’s foreign policy.

Obama assumes, Doran argues, that Iran and the U.S. are natural allies with common interests and that George W. Bush’s obduracy was the main obstacle to rapprochement. Bush had largely ignored the December 2006 recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission, including engagement with Iran, and ordered a surge of troops in Iraq instead. Obama has abandoned Iraq and pursued Iran.

Thus Obama turned a cold shoulder to Iran’s pro-democracy Green Revolution movement in June 2009. He proposed to let Iran keep its nuclear infrastructure and transfer uranium to Russia, a deal nixed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He signed sanctions against Iran only reluctantly in the face of near-unanimous support in Congress.

Early in 2013 he established secret back-channel negotiations with Iran. Months later he promised to relieve sanctions but accepted Iran’s right to enrich uranium and to keep it stockpiled, enriched to 5 percent.

He declined, against his top advisers’ recommendations, to arm rebels against the Iran-backed Assad regime in Syria after it crossed his “red line” of using chemical weapons, and let Iran’s friend Russia disarm them. “Obama has given Iran a free hand in Syria and Iraq,” Doran writes, “on the simplistic assumption that Tehran would combat al-Qaida and like-minded groups in a manner serving American interests.”

This year, Obama has spoken out against a bill, supported by large congressional majorities, that would re-impose sanctions if the U.S. and Iran don’t reach agreement on nuclear talks by June — the third deadline after failing to reach agreement in July and November 2014.

This seems to defy logic: If, as Obama concedes, sanctions brought Iran to the bargaining table, sanctions should move them toward agreement. But Obama’s position makes sense if you accept Doran’s argument that Obama’s overriding purpose is a regional alliance with Iran.

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