Saturday, May 2, 2009

Obama and Iran: The President of Pre-emptive Surrender

from Spiegel Online
May 2, 2009

America wants to engage with Tehran and offer concessions over its nuclear program. President Ahmadinejad will naturally swear not to build any nuclear weapons. But his promises will be worth little, because Iran in the long term wants to be a great power -- and for that it will need the bomb.

"Hit us and we shall hit you ten times harder!" This is how General Muhammad Ali Jaafari, the recently appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard responded to speculation about a possible attack by Israel on Iran's nuclear installations.

Jaafari replaced General Yahya Safavi in 2007 after the latter made a speech in which he implicitly warned the mullahs that Iran's military was not ready for war against far more powerful enemies.

Those familiar with Iranian military capabilities know that it is Safavi's sober assessment, and not Jaafari's bluster, that reflects the true situation. Jaafari can make his claim only because he, and his political masters in Tehran, are convinced there will be no military action1) against their regime.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad always assumed that once President George W. Bush was out of the White House, the United States would bite the bullet and accept a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic as a "regional superpower" in the Middle East. A change in US policy towards Iran would, in turn, make it impossible for Israel to contemplate military action against the Islamic Republic.

Two events convinced Ahmadinejad that his strategy was correct.

The first came in May 2006, when the Bush administration, then at the nadir of its unpopularity because things were not going well in Iraq, joined the line of supplicant Europeans begging Tehran to negotiate a deal.

This unexpected shift in Washington's policy produced the opposite effect.

Far from persuading Ahamdinejad that it was a good chance to defuse the situation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's attempt at nuance and multilateral diplomacy convinced Tehran that the Americans had blinked.

The second event that confirmed Ahmadinejad's belief that "America cannot do a damn thing" came with the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). Using language of obfuscation, the NIE claimed that Tehran had abandoned a key aspect of its nuclear program in 2003. The NIE undermined the whole case brought by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) against the Islamic Republic.

Whatever one might say about Ahmadinejad, one thing is certain: he plays an open hand. He is convinced that with Bush gone, the US does not have the stomach for a fight, let alone pre-emptive war.

He thinks the dominant mood in the US, and the West in general, is one of pre-emptive surrender.

Ahmadinejad may well be right: there is not going to be any war against the Islamic Republic.
President Barack Obama has decided to engage Iran unconditionally. This means he no longer insists that Iran should comply with the terms of three United Nations' Security Council resolutions that demand an end to its nuclear programme in its present form.

The 5+1 talks expected to open later this month will focus on a formula to "walk the camel down the roof" -- that is to say, find a face-saving way to give Obama his first diplomatic success while allowing the Islamic Republic to pursue its program.

The formula would include a provision under which Iran will make a solemn commitment not to develop nuclear weapons. This is not hard to do. The "Supreme Leader" Ali Khameini has already issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against nuclear arms. Iran analysts believe that, for the time being, the regime is interested in acquiring the wherewithal needed to make nuclear weapons without actually taking the final step towards manufacturing them.

Ahmadinejad has already promised "full support and protection" to anti-American regimes in Latin America against the "Great Satan" in Washington. Iran is laying the foundation for an armaments industry in Venezuela. One day a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic may extend its nuclear umbrella to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador and -- why not -- Cuba.

The Islamic Republic has been at war against the United States and the international system led by Washington for almost 30 years. It has been a low intensity war because the US and its allies have shied away from full-scale confrontation. The US has shown it has lots of power, but not the courage to use even a fraction of it. The Islamic Republic's power, on the other hand, is "tiny," as Obama has noted. Yet the mullahs have been prepared to use their "tiny" power in full, with already devastating effects.

The issue is not how to avoid war with the Islamic Republic. It is how to end a war that has been going on for almost 30 years.
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