Watching Obama Administration National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s speech Monday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Policy Conference was like watching high school sweethearts break up: both parties know that the reasons being given are ludicrous (“it’s not you, it’s me”) but there’s a kind of sad but entertaining quality in how transparently false they are.
The most significant component of the post-World War II nuclear non-proliferation regime is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968. Iran is a signatory of this treaty and has never pulled out. The actions of the Obama administration, as outlined in Rice’s speech, obviate the NPT as a tool against future proliferation and fatally weaken the UN Security Council. In fact, the Obama administration is jettisoning the entire system by which we have prevented countries and non-state actors from building and obtaining nukes for almost half a century and virtually guaranteeing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
In 2002, the world discovered that Iran had secretly built – in violation of their treaty obligations under the NPT – nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak. Since 2002, there have been six U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for Iran to cease uranium enrichment. In her speech Monday, Rice said that ending Iranian enrichment is an “unachievable ideal.” That the President’s National Security Advisor is willing to say, in public, that enforcing the NPT and six Security Council mandates is “unachievable” is astounding. The Security Council was designed to be the real seat of power at the UN – the only international body with any real teeth. It will now spend whatever existence it has left gumming pureed solids.
In her speech, Rice reiterated President Obama’s essentially meaningless trope that “we are keeping all options on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” This used to be vaguely coded language for hawks who wanted an acknowledgement that the administration was willing to consider military action against Iranian nuclear targets. Today, after living through years of “leading from behind” and crossed red-lines, it’s understandable if no one believes them anymore. Still, it’s unusual for that healthy skepticism to be found … in the same speech. Mere paragraphs after vowing that “all options” remained on the table, Rice surmised that a military option “would only set back Iran’s program” a little. We’ll consider military action! But it won’t work!
So you may think sanctions are the answer. Not so fast, says Rice. Unfortunately, “sanctions never stopped Iran from advancing its program.” Of course, you should avoid telling that to the authors of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on the Iranian nuclear program who concluded exactly the opposite.
So, if we pull all those strings together, here’s what we get: even though we have the legal authority to stop them from enriching uranium, we can’t do that. We’ll consider bombing them, but only as seriously as you would consider something you’ve publicly conceded can’t work. And sanctions don’t work despite the fact that they work. Oh, and, incidentally, if talks fail, the preceding lemons are the only measures we’ve got as a fallback option so the talks kind of have to work.
You have to wonder how the Republicans keep managing to lose to these people.
Rice went on to lay out a series of key provisions that must be in any deal.
“Any deal,” she said, “must increase the time it takes Iran to reach breakout capacity.” That’s a fine goal, except that the goal used to be to deny them the ability to achieve breakout at all. Now we’re managing their breakout timelines and defining it as a success. Normally, when one shifts the goalpost, they do it in favor of their side to facilitate winning. We seem to be doing it to make losing look less like losing.
“Any deal,” she continued, “must ensure frequent and intrusive inspections at Iran’s nuclear sites.” According to a UN report released yesterday, another from late-February, and a series of reports from the unfortunately acronymed Institute for Science and International Security, Iran is violating this requirement while sitting in negotiations.
Lastly, Rice stated that “any deal must address the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program,” and “any deal must last more than a decade.” Reports out last week indicate that the deal on the table right now does neither.
At best, the Obama administration is engaged in breathtakingly incompetent international diplomatic malpractice. The full frontal verbal assault on Prime Minister Netanyahu by the president and his advisors (my favorite was Secretary Kerry’s accusation that the Israeli leader was “cheerleading” for the Iraq War in 2003; a dog-whistle for the left and particularly rich coming from a guy who voted for the war) feel like the waging of a political race not of relations between allied countries.
If the Obama administration continues down this reckless path, we should prepare ourselves for nuclear arms race in the Middle East as other NPT signatories, threatened by the Iranian menace, seek to cast off their treaty obligations and either buy or build nukes. The Obama administration will have seen to it that there is no one and nothing to stop them.
The only recourse now is overwhelming, bipartisan congressional action. Our children will, one day, judge us for what we do in the next few weeks and months.
Jonathan Greenberg is a Middle East analyst, public policy expert, and former staffer at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He is a senior fellow with the Salomon Center.