What to watch for on Iran

As we move into June, the month of the Iranian faux presidential elections (all candidates have been pre-selected by the mullahs and there is no reason to believe the results will be any more legitimate or meaningful than the 2009 election, which touched off the Green Revolution), we’re going to hear a great deal of noise from the left about “positive steps,” “opening the political process” and a new opportunity for Iran to join the “community of nations.”


Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Associated Press)

It is good to recall President Obama’s ludicrous reaction in 2009. Israeli journalist Ruthie Blum recounts:

When Iranians went to the polls on June 12, Obama held a press conference in the Rose Garden.

“We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran,” he told reporters. “And whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there’s been a robust debate, hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.”

The “debate” was “robust,” all right. When Moussavi won the election, Ahmadinejad declared victory and dispatched the Basij militia to the streets to shoot at anyone arguing otherwise. One such person was a young woman named Neda Aga Sultan. Gunned down on June 20 while heading for a demonstration against the stolen election, she became an international symbol for the Green Revolution, with the YouTube clip of her dying moments circulating all over the Web.

On June 22, Obama gave another press conference to reiterate his non-position on the unfolding events in Iran.

“Well, look, we didn’t have international observers on the ground,” he replied to Huffington Post reporter Nico Pitney (whom he had phoned earlier in the day to tell him what question to ask.) “The most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States. And that’s why I’ve been very clear: Ultimately, this is up to the Iranian people to decide who their leadership is going to be and the structure of their government.”

Thunk.

There is no mystery as to why or how the left will bombard us with optimistic interpretations of this round of Iranian elections.

The “why” is because our Iran policy has failed to halt the mullahs’ nuclear weapons program; Iran is ever-more emboldened in propping up its junior partner Bashar al-Assad in Syria; the break-out time for a nuclear weapons capability has been greatly reduced by use of more sophisticated centrifuges in Iran; and President Obama is running out of time and excuses to avoid what he plainly has never wanted to do, utilize the military option.

The “how” is an organized, open effort by liberals to propagate containment as the only viable option on Iran. The Los Angeles Times reports on the “Iran Project,” which to the surprise of many on the right who saw him as indefatigable on Iraq, includes former ambassador to Iraq and then to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker:

Tougher sanctions won’t persuade Tehran to stop enriching uranium, Crocker contends. Instead, he says, Obama should step up diplomacy and consider concessions to the mullahs.

“Sanctions are easy to do, and afterwards we can tell ourselves that, ‘By God, we’ve really stuck it to them,’” Crocker said in an interview. “But it seems to me that the more you press this regime, the more they dig in.”

Crocker is among 35 high-powered foreign policy and intelligence veterans, some with extensive Middle East experience, who are pushing the White House and Congress to change course to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

The group includes, as I mentioned last week, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). This puts a much more respectable face on the containment message that previously has been propagated by mostly fringe Iran apologists.

You won’t be shocked to hear the White House is not exactly giving the soft-on-Iran people the cold shoulder. (“Many in official Washington consider the Iran Project’s views the wishful thinking of liberals who give Iran’s hard-line leaders more credit than they deserve. The State Department appeared to play down differences with the group, saying in a statement that it shares a desire to use ‘rigorous sanctions and serious negotiations’ to draw Iran into talks.”)

As much as the president would dearly love to discover that containment is not “unacceptable” after all, he’ll set off a firestorm with Congress, the American people, Israel and our Sunni allies in the region if he moves in that direction. That in part is why the Senate moved before the recess to beef up sanctions and to offer full support to Israel in the event it decides to use force. Growing fear about the president’s bias toward inaction may also prompt one or more Republican senators to authorize use of force against Iran, as a means of strengthening the military option’s credibility.

But no matter what authority the president is given, only he can decide to use it. If he was not willing to challenge Syria’s third rate anti-aircraft system in a show of force against use of chemical weapons, it’s hard to imagine the mullahs (or Israel or the Sunnis) take seriously a U.S. military threat. If Congress doesn’t, why should they?

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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Jennifer Rubin | May 28, 2013