President Obama came into office imagining he could turn our Middle East policy on its head. Withdraw rather than assert our interests; put the screws on Israel while reaching detente with Iran; leave longtime Sunni allies to fend for themselves. It was a monumental error, based on the false notions that the United States had been the real problem (while Iran was a victim desiring return to “the international community”); that Israel was the impediment to peace with the Palestinians; that a smaller U.S. footprint would reduce tension; and that George W. Bush’s administration had exaggerated the threat of Islamic terrorism. Each of these goals was illusory, and each assumption just plain wrong.

The latest incident bears this out. The Post reports:

Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran on Sunday amid the furor that erupted over the execution by the Saudi authorities of a prominent Shiite cleric.
Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair told reporters in Riyadh that the Iranian ambassador to Saudi Arabia had been given 48 hours to leave the country, citing concerns that Tehran’s Shiite government was undermining the security of the Sunni kingdom.
Saudi Arabian diplomats had already departed Iran after angry mobs trashed and burned the Saudi embassy in Tehran overnight Saturday, in response to the execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr earlier in the day. . . . The Saudi consulate in the Iranian city of Mashad was also set on fire during the protests that erupted after Nimr’s execution was announced.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emeraties have now joined Saudi Arabia in severing ties with Iran.

Unlike the Obama administration, the Saudi government recognizes that one cannot deal with a country that refuses to abide by international norms, including respect for the sanctity and protection of diplomatic facilities. This is hardly the first time Iranians have demonstrated their willingness to use violence against diplomats. Whether it was attacking the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and taking American hostages or the 2011 attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Iran has treated diplomats as legitimate targets.

As former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams writes:

What these events have in common is the repeated failure and refusal of the security forces to protect embassies, despite whatever apologies come later. Iran is a police state, with plenty of manpower available to stop “protesters” or “students” from entering embassy grounds that the Islamic Republic government –like all governments– is pledged to protect. Iran’s top police official later said police were working to defuse the situation and remove “protesters” from the building. But it was obvious the moment the Saudi Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr was executed on Saturday that the Saudi embassy would need protection, so the decision not to provide it until it was too late was just that–a political decision.
Indeed, we will never know what proportion of the crowd of “protesters” were actually from the basij, the paramilitary “volunteer” mobs organized by the Revolutionary Guards. . . . So it is another piece of evidence that Iran refuses to live by the rules of civilized diplomatic practice, and that its behavior has gotten worse not better since the signing of the nuclear deal–whose “outreach” was supposed to change Iran’s conduct.

Not without cause, Iran has come to believe there are no consequences for its aggression and illegal conduct. Iran conducts impermissible ballistic missile tests; the U.S. president decides to delay sanctions. Iranian forces move into Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad; the administration invites Iran to talks on Syria’s future. The Obama negotiators conclude a nuclear deal without insisting on the release of Americans held in Iran; Iran takes this as a green light to grab another American.

Such is the nature of appeasement. It is not only morally abhorrent; it never works, because aggressive regimes and tyrants are never satisfied with their gains. Ultimately they must be confronted, but by then they have gained strength and confidence while Western democratic governments are shown to be foolish and weak. It will take a new president to arrest the pattern of serial concessions to the United States’ adversaries. We should brace ourselves for the havoc dictators will cause before Obama leaves office.