JERUSALEM — How much more proof will President Barack Obama need before he realizes that his idea of “engaging” Iran is a nonstarter?
Surely he must understand that if the theocratic clique that rules Tehran cannot listen to its own citizens’ courageous campaign for freedom of speech, assembly and press as well as a truly democratic rather than a fraudulent presidential election they surely will not listen to his or his emissaries’ entreaties.
To paraphrase an astute comment by Israel’s minister of intelligence and strategy, Dan Meridor, the Iranian revolution of 1979 changed the rules of the diplomatic game by introducing God as their exclusive advocate and “God,” he went on, “does not compromise.”
President Obama ought to re-read the tragic history of the 20th century, especially the fateful decade of the 1930s when an ostensibly well-meaning, but incredibly naive British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, contended that it was preferable to talk to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler than to challenge him on the battlefields of Europe.
Umbrella in hand, Chamberlain, accompanied by French and Italian officials, met Hitler in September 1938. The purpose was to avoid an international showdown over the German chancellor’s demand that Czechoslovakia cede the Sudetenland, a frontier area that had a German-speaking majority. Hitler was appeased. The Czechs, who were not invited to this ignominious parley, were deprived of strategic territory. Chamberlain returned home proclaiming, “Peace in Our Time!” and World War II broke out a year later.
The president not only remains convinced of his baseless election campaign rhetoric about “reaching out” to Iran, but allowed it to dilute and delay his condemnation of that country’s suppression of democracy. And when he finally deigned to speak out, he still left the door open for talks with the Iranian regime. His declared objective to deter Iran’s presumed if not obvious intention to become a nuclear power is commendable. But it will not be achieved; when he expounded his inherently unrealistic thesis, its time frame extended well beyond a calendar year. At this stage, barely six months are left until he and his staff make an assessment of their diplomatic track’s prospects.
The negotiations have not yet and may never begin, but in the meantime, Iran’s nuclear program has continued without letup.
One of the tragedies in all this is that the lesson learned by Chamberlain’s appeasement, which cost the lives of more than 50 million people, is being ignored. It is that negotiations with dictators are hopeless and pointless.
President Obama seemingly finds it difficult to understand or accept one of the political facts of life, namely that there are disputes in the contemporary world that defy instant or even gradual solutions. One of them is between Iran and the United States. There is no historical rationale that can justify it, not even the degree and nature of U.S. involvement in Iranian domestic affairs during the early 1950s and the prolonged American support of the late Shah.
Having covered the Iranian Revolution 30 years ago, I can testify to the Carter Administration’s incredibly tolerant attitude toward its perpetrators. One example is the statement made to me by then-U.S. Ambassador William Sullivan that he had no objection to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return to Tehran from exile in Paris. “The Iranians will see that he is an old man,” he said, implying that they would not accept him as their revolutionary leader. How wrong he was.
By the same token, the chief of the U.S. military advisory team in Iran recommended that Iran’s armed forces be unleashed to quell the fanatical Islamic mass demonstrations in which, “Death to the United States” and “Death to Israel” were the main slogans. But he was overruled by the Carter administration.
Iran’s generals and other senior commanders paid for this with their lives. They were executed as soon as the revolutionaries seized power.
Therefore, President Obama should face the fact that today’s Iran is a threat to the stability of the Middle East, so much so that its nuclear ambitions have nurtured a tactical coalition between Israel and the moderate Arab states. He should realize that genuine peace between these longtime antagonists may be a byproduct.
Above all, he should act, preferably by nonviolent means, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power rather than leave Israel, one of Tehran’s principal targets, no choice other than to act alone to prevent another Holocaust. Otherwise, the slogan, “Never Again” will be meaningless.
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at Jay@actcom.co.il.)