When I see the earnest and eager John Kerry globe-trotting the world in his sharp business suits trying to convince mullahs not to build a nuclear bomb, I can’t help but have these politically incorrect thoughts that are loaded with stereotypes.
The most obvious stereotype is that of the golly-gee American sucker in long shorts and black socks getting ripped off by a wily merchant in a Middle Eastern souk.
The first question I ask myself is: Does Kerry realize what this is about? Does he realize that in a region where honor and glory are everything, a nuclear bomb represents precisely that, honor and glory? He’s hoping the Iranians will abandon the very program that would help them fulfill their dream of bringing back the powerful and glorious Shiite Persian Empire that would eradicate Zionism and dominate Arabs, Turks and Sunnis across the greater Middle East for the next century.
When you ask for that much, you’d better have plenty of leverage.
Right now, Kerry’s leverage is pain — economic pain. It is this pain that has brought the mullahs back to the table, not some epiphany that maybe a better way to regain their Persian glory would be to find the cure for cancer.
If Kerry better understood this leverage, he wouldn’t be offering deals that are so lame that, in the words of Middle Eastern expert Lee Smith, the United States would give the Iranians “virtually everything they wanted for nothing but empty promises.”
In other words, deals where Iran would get sanctions relief but still be allowed, according to The New York Times, to “continue adding to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.”
The mark of a sucker is to act like an eager buyer — and Kerry looks like one very eager buyer.
He’s so eager, in fact, that he’s fighting against his own side – U.S. congressmen and senators — to convince them not to increase the sanctions so that he can decrease the sanctions. Apparently, it hasn’t dawned on him that there’s a third option: Using new sanctions as a negotiating tool and telling the mullahs, “In return for us not increasing the sanctions, what are you prepared to offer?”
As Jeffrey Goldberg writes on Bloomberg.com, “The Iranians have a history of expanding their nuclear program under the cover of negotiations; the least Western diplomats could do to avoid looking like suckers is to demand that Iran press the [nuclear] pause button.”
A shrewder Kerry, then, might propose this deal: We stop increasing sanctions if you stop enriching uranium.
But even more important than the issue of U.S. shrewdness in deal-making is the issue of U.S. seriousness.
It’s well known that if you’re really serious about getting Iran to abandon its nuclear dream, you must back sanctions with a credible military threat. How credible is the U.S. threat? In a piece in Politico titled “Obama’s Fight With Israel: This Time It’s Serious,” Robert Satloff writes that President Barack Obama’s military threat is “tarnished” and that he needs to take “urgent steps … to make the threat more believable.”
The real question is: Does Obama want to make this threat more believable?
Skeptics (myself included) will tell you that President Obama was never serious about a military option. As we saw with his flip-flopping on Syria and his infamous “leading from behind” doctrine, Obama has shown neither the stomach nor the inclination to start another Mideast war. That’s why he’s dialed down the threats — he’s hoping his man in Geneva can strike a deal so that Iran won’t call his bluff.
And, now that he’s embroiled in the Obamacare fiasco — which has severely undermined his credibility and threatened to taint his legacy — Obama has even less reason to start a war and even more reason to strike a deal, even a lame one.
The wily mullahs of Persia seem to grasp all this. They may hate sanctions, but they understand leverage.
Israelis who are rightly worried about another Holocaust understand that without a credible military threat, the Iranians will just continue to buy time until it’s too late to stop their nuclear program, which could be only months away.
As French President François Hollande urgently reminded everyone when he was greeted like a hero in Israel, “The Iranian nuclear program is a threat to Israel, and it is clearly a threat to the region and the world,” and, he added, France will be uncompromising until it is “completely sure that Iran has given up nuclear weapons.”
In that same spirit, another world leader once said: “The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. … The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.”
Those words were spoken in 2008 by candidate Barack Obama, the same man who would promise his nation five years later that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”
If President Obama is now wobbling on his promise to eliminate the Iranian threat, that might explain why Kerry is looking like a sucker in the souks of the Middle East: It’s not so much that he’s naïve but that his boss has lost the stomach for the fight.
Israel doesn’t have that luxury.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.