Make no mistake. With not so much as a public explanation, President Obama — a while ago, apparently — has decided to abandon the position of three U.S. presidents (including himself) and unilaterally undercut six United Nations resolutions. The great promoter of multilateralism has decided the United States is not going to stand behind the international community’s vow that Iran must dismantle its nuclear arms program and abandon enrichment.

President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.<br />(Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press) President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
(Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press)

At the Saban Center, Obama told the crowd:

You’ll hear arguments, including potentially from the prime minister, that said  we can’t accept any enrichment on Iranian soil, period, full stop, end of  conversation. One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, ‘We’ll destroy every  element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone.’ I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. There are a lot  of things that I can envision that would be wonderful. …

Theoretically, they will always have some capability because technology here  is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around  the world. And they have already gone through the cycle to the point  where the knowledge we are not going to be able to eliminate. But what we can do  is eliminate the incentive for them to want to do this.

So much for his assurances that all options would be on the table to force Iran to comply with U.N. dictates. Even worse, he undercut his own rationale for sanctions: “The idea that Iran, given everything that we know about their history, would  just continue to get more and more nervous about more sanctions and military  threats and ultimately just say, ‘We give in,’ I think does not reflect an  honest understanding of the Iranian people and the Iranian regime.” I wonder when he “discovered” all that (like he discovered buying insurance is hard and big government doesn’t work well.)

A former U.S. official critical of Obama’s Iran approach e-mails me, “The administration’s negotiating tactics are bizarre. They remove the threat of using force (in reality, whatever their rhetoric; no one believes it now), they oppose sanctions bills in Congress, and then the president goes out to say Iran cannot be stopped from enriching. Is this the way to maximize pressure on Iran and get the best possible deal?” The official observes, “They are spending all their time now defending their deal with Iran, when they ought to be figuring out how to create additional pressure and ensure that any comprehensive agreement is as tough as nails. They are defending their own performance instead of defending American security interests.”

Former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton tells me, “Under the mullahs, Iran cannot be trusted with any form of nuclear program.  Not that it comes as a surprise, but Obama has well and truly given the game away.”

Obama’s remarks are only going to heighten bipartisan calls for additional sanctions. On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, with ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Tex.) , there was this exchange:

MCCAUL:  Look, we’ve been working on the sanctions for a decade, since I’ve been in Congress.  And to get to the point where the administration, whatever party, could negotiate with Iran to dismantle their nuclear weapons program and what I’m concerned about is that we have not dismantled their program, and yet, we leave (ph) the sanctions, which is a $7 billion economic aid to the country.

When I talked to former administrations and the Bush administration, they tell me one of the biggest mistakes they made in North Korea, where they basically agreed to these accords and the North Korean’s got the nuclear weapon.  I don’t want to see that same mistake happen in Iran.  I want to be optimistic.  You know, Kennedy said don’t fear to negotiate, but don’t negotiate out of fear.  What I’m concerned is we’re setting up a problem here. Yesterday, just yesterday, the president of Iran, [Hassan] Rouhani, said the centrifuges will never stop in Iran.  That sends to me a very cold, hard message that they are not intent on a civilian nuclear peaceful program.  But rather towards, you know, getting a nuclear weapon.

CROWLEY:  Let me, for you Congressman Schiff, read part of what President Rouhani said yesterday.  He said “nuclear technology and uranium enrichment is our definite right, but progress, better living conditions, and welfare for the people is also our definite right.”. . .  So, my question to you is, does it complicate things when the administration says, yes, we could see some enriched uranium for nuclear power purposes but nothing else?

SCHIFF:  Well, it does.  You know, it’s one thing to say that Iran can have a peaceful nuclear energy program.  You can have a peaceful nuclear energy program with no enrichment.  The uranium can be provided for that. It could be taken back.  They don’t need the centrifuges. They certainly don’t need fast speed centrifuges.  They certainly don’t need thousands of centrifuges. The only reason why you want to have the kind of capability Iran is developing is if you want a fast breakout capability. . . . So, what I think the administration needs to push for in this negotiation is a peaceful program without enrichment.  And I wouldn’t begin the process by conceding anything on enrichment.

CROWLEY:  It seems like it’s already a little bit — now the exact nature of it, the idea that well maybe we’ll, you know, we would ship in enriched uranium capable of nuclear energy only.  But nonetheless, a lot of people have complained that it does seem like the administration is giving up something they shouldn’t be giving up.

MCCAUL:  Yes.  If I can make a point, I mean, this violates a U.N. Security Council resolutions, U.N. proliferation treaty and empowers other countries in the Middle East to say, yes we’re going to strike an accord with you to allow you to continue your uranium enrichment.  And all that does is encourage other countries within the Middle East to say, hey, we’ve abided by this.  But if you allow Iran to do this, then why can’t we do this?  That’s my concern.

CROWLEY:  Right.  We didn’t stop Pakistan.  We didn’t stop North Korea.  So, the idea that Iran can be stopped if they want to make a nuclear weapon seems to not have a great historic precedent.

MCCAUL:  I would add that, you know, look, we pass and Adam and I voted for the Iranian Sanctions Act on the central bank which is where the energy is coming out of the transaction.  Very important legislation that was on its way to the Senate.  It has not been passed.  I had a letter to Harry Reid.  Seventy members have signed on and say, look, let’s pass that bill to give us the leverage.  This is all about leverage in the negotiations.

In essence the president has given up on decades of U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. He is now speaking in terms of letting Iran have a little enrichment program, but with no threat of further sanctions and an obvious lack of determination to use military power to stop Iran. A senior Senate Republican aide e-mailed me Sunday, “What the President is really saying is that he no longer has a policy of prevention, he has a policy of containment.  Such a change in policy is totally unacceptable to the Israelis and the Saudis so the President’s remarks will either produce an Israeli air strike, a Saudi nuclear program or both.” Moreover, the entire Non-Proliferation Treaty structure is now in ruins; an international scofflaw will get its nuclear enrichment program simply because it defied international norms.

We are now at the point many conservative critics predicted: It is up to Israel to remove the threat of a nuclear armed Iran and a Middle East nuclear arms race. The idea that Iran can have a little nuclear enrichment program is like saying you can be a little pregnant. With a country with a long record of cheating, deception and violation of agreements, it is foolish to expect we could keep its enrichment program little.