Exclusive to the Trib: Barack Obama’s fatal mistake is pursuing a myth called appeasement
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s powerful speech to Congress about Iran’s nuclear weapons program now is behind us. America obviously benefited by hearing directly from him about the brutal nuclear reality Tehran’s ayatollahs have created and the risks posed by the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members (plus Germany).
Netanyahu was entirely justified in trying to influence debate about what he rightly sees as an existential threat to his country. The deal now pending is grievously flawed and, with near certainty, Iran will not comply with it in any case. Secretary of State John Kerry has been wrong to say that negative comments are unfair because no one yet knows the deal’s final terms. In fact, the administration routinely has leaked provisions thought to benefit President Obama; one can only wonder at the unleaked provisions they think might be problematic.
We should now put behind us the needless controversy preceding Netanyahu’s address, which was little more than Barack Obama’s offended sense of amour propre , a decidedly un-presidential response. The central focus should always have been the mortal threat to the United States, Israel and other friends and allies posed by the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran.
Its religious fanatics have been the world’s central bankers for international terrorism since the Islamic Revolution — their term to describe the events of 1979, not mine — seized power in Iran. Their militarized power base in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards has armed and trained terrorists on an equal-opportunity basis: Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon, anti-American militias in Iraq, Sunni Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Iran’s sworn enemies, the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The ayatollahs seized America’s Tehran embassy in 1979 and took our diplomats hostage — terrorist acts prohibited under long-standing treaty commitments and international custom. This hostage crisis was the first exposure most Americans had to the mindset that still grips Iran. It tells us everything we need to know about how likely the mullahs are to keep their word today.
Of course, it didn’t stop there. Iran has been killing Americans since Revolutionary Guards officers assisted in planning and carrying out the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. They have fabricated explosively formed projectiles, designed especially to penetrate armored vehicles, to use against American forces in Iraq.
Their assistance to the Taliban — what the Pentagon called “calibrated lethal aid” in a 2014 report — also is aimed primarily at killing Americans, either in terrorist attacks or more conventional combat. To Iran’s ayatollahs, we have always been “the Great Satan.”
So when the leader of Israel, which the ayatollahs are pleased to call “the Little Satan,” speaks to Congress, we should listen, focusing on substance rather than protocol. We urgently need to debate the deal’s merits before Iran graciously accepts Obama’s too-numerous-to-list concessions. Instead, in one of history’s cruel ironies, John Kerry couldn’t meet with Netanyahu in Washington because he was in Geneva, desperately trying to reach agreement with Iran’s negotiators. There is no better way to demonstrate the Obama administration’s true priorities.
Iran has, for more than 30 years, been pursuing a consistent, dogged strategy intended to achieve its objective of deliverable nuclear weapons. In seeking such an enormous military capability, Iran is prepared to make temporary, easily reversible concessions along the way — always keeping in mind the limited, time-bound nature of these arrangements. It has done so repeatedly in the past, and it is doing so again in the current negotiations. To the ayatollahs, deals are tactical maneuvers, not efforts to resolve disputes.
Particularly difficult for Americans to understand is that, when the deal is signed, the negotiating will not be over. In fact, to Iran, agreements are just hitching posts along the trail toward deliverable nuclear weapons, temporary resting places before Iran begins its inexorable search for further weaknesses, leverage points and terms of the deal it will violate.
By contrast, Obama is not pursuing a strategy but a myth called appeasement. Appeasers hope that buying off potential adversaries with concessions and demonstrations of goodwill would dissuade them from committing aggression. When dealing with insignificant threats in secondary regions at minimal costs, concessions of this sort might make sense. Or as an act of desperation, when no other alternatives are available, such concessions might also work.
But for mortal threats to security of our country and its allies — even their very existence — against an implacable opponent, where the costs of weakness are enormous, appeasement is a fatal mistake. Obama hopes that by making concessions on economic sanctions and perhaps even diplomatic recognition, he can somehow make the ayatollahs forget their own strategic objectives. This is delusional, as we shall regrettably see soon after the agreement is announced.
John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and, previously, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.