Now what? In an honest world, that’s the question American negotiators would be asking themselves after Iran rejected any meaningful change to its nuclear program. But desperation rules out honesty, so the White House is almost certainly asking itself a very different question.
Something like, how do we keep the illusion of progress going until after the election? Pulling off that trick won’t be easy, because most people didn’t buy the illusion in the first place. The idea that Iran could be persuaded through many carrots and a few sticks to stop its quest for nukes never made sense. Starting with its Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has not been a rational actor, nor showed any evidence it wants to be seen that way. Its agenda of dominance and martyrdom, at home and abroad, is a secret only to those whose eyes are closed.
Unfortunately, they include the president of the United States. That President Obama’s blindness is shared by European leaders only confirms that it emerges from weakness and wishfulness.Given the short list of alternatives, it was not entirely unreasonable to give diplomacy a final try. What remains unreasonable, and dishonest, is the spin that the talks were on the verge of a breakthrough and that Iran was ready to make a deal. The non-stop leaks to left-leaning news organizations had the opposite effect — they confirmed that Obama wants a deal too much.
If it was obvious here, it must have been doubly so to Iranians. In that case, we can be assured they will permit the suckers to keep bidding against themselves. Having ruled out real compromise, and even demanding that evidence of weaponization be produced before they allow in inspectors, the mullahs’ men have raised their bar. They assume Obama will respond by lowering his. They are correct. By keeping up the charade that the talks are significant, and scheduling another round in Moscow, of all places, the president tips his hand. Beyond trying to forestall an Israeli attack, he uses the negotiations as an excuse for not making a difficult decision about American security.
The talks have become not a means, but the end.
There is no need to coin a new word for this. Appeasement fits just fine.
Historic examples are often explained as if they happened in a single moment. Thus, it’s as though Neville Chamberlain’s “peace for our time” speech, when he returned to London after ceding part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, marked both the start and end of his capitulation. In fact, Chamberlain and others had been giving ground to Hitler for years, including the annexation of Austria. Every time Hitler raised his demands, Chamberlain lowered his. Every time Hitler issued an ultimatum, he got rewarded.
Continual appeasement only delayed a reckoning, and gave Hitler the time to expand German might and planning. Indeed, within six months of Chamberlain’s “peace for our time” boast, Hitler had gobbled up all of Czechoslovakia and then turned to Poland. The Iran of today is not the Germany of 1938. But in one key respect, it could be more dangerous. A nuclear-armed Iran will trigger a nuke race in the region, and might well provoke a nuclear war. That, at least, is the prediction of some American and Israeli intelligence experts. That frightening scenario will not disappear because of wishing and hoping.
Obama, for now, shares Iran’s goal of stalling an Israeli strike. The results would be unpredictable, including the impact on his campaign. He might succeed, if only because Iran is eager to pocket the concession of time as it doggedly enriches more uranium to higher grades. But sooner or later, this president, or the next one, will have to answer the question: Now what?
History shows that, when dealing with madmen, later is usually worse than sooner.