Honest Obama and Iran
In his first week and a half in office, US President Barack Obama has proven that he is a man of his word. For instance, he was not bluffing when he said during his campaign that he would make reconstituting America's relations with the Islamic world one of his first priorities in office.
Obama's first phone call to a foreign leader was to PLO chieftain Mahmoud Abbas last Wednesday morning. And this past Tuesday, Obama gave his first television interview as president to the Al-Arabiya pan-Arabic television network.
In that interview Obama explained the rationale of his approach to the Muslim world.
"We are looking at the region as a whole and communicating a message to the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest," the new president said.
Obama distanced his administration from its predecessor by asserting that rather than dictate how Muslims should behave, his administration plans "to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there's a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs."
In short, Obama argues that the root of the Islamic world's opposition to the US is its shattered confidence in America's intentions. By following a policy of contrition for Bush's "cowboy diplomacy," and acting with deference in its dealing with the Muslim world, in his view, a new era of US-Islamic relations will ensue.
Obama's honesty was a hot subject during the presidential campaign. Many analysts claimed that he was a closet moderate who only made far-left pronouncements about "spreading the wealth around," and about meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "without preconditions," to mollify his far-left partisan base.
Others argued that Obama was a man of his word. From his voting records in the Illinois Senate and the US Senate, and in light of his long associations with domestic and foreign policy radicals, these commentators predicted that if elected, Obama's policies would be far to the left of center.
Judging by his actions since entering office last week, it appears that the latter group of analysts was correct. Obama is not a panderer.
Between his $819 billion economic "stimulus" package, which involves a massive intrusion by federal government on the free market; his decision to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay; his dispatch of former senator George Mitchell to the Middle East to begin pushing for a Palestinian state two weeks before Israel's general elections; his announcement that he will begin withdrawing American forces from Iraq; his repeated signaling that the US will no longer treat the fight against Islamic terrorism as a war; and his attempts to engineer a diplomatic rapprochement with Iran, Obama has shown that his policy pronouncements on the campaign trail were serious. The policies he outlined are the policies with which he intends to govern.
ON A strategic level, the most significant campaign promise that Obama is wasting no time in keeping is his attempt to diplomatically engage with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Teheran is the central sponsor of the global jihad. Hizbullah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are all Iranian proxies. And, as is becoming increasingly undeniable, al-Qaida too enjoys a close relationship with the mullahs.
The 9/11 Commission's final report noted that several of the September 11 hijackers transited Iran en route to the US. And in recent weeks we learned that after spending the past six years in Iran, where he played a major role in directing the insurgency in Iraq, Osama bin Laden's eldest son Sa'ad has moved to Pakistan.
Beyond its sponsorship of terrorism, due to its nuclear weapons program Iran is the largest emerging threat to global security. Together with its genocidal rhetoric against Israel, its calls for the destruction of the US, and its incitement for the overthrow of the governments of Egypt and Jordan, among others, Iran is the single largest source of instability in the region. Moreover, as US Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Iran is working actively in South and Central America to destabilize the western hemisphere.
Obama caused an uproar when during a Democratic primary debate last spring he said that he would meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions. In subsequent months, he sought to soften his declaration. It is now apparent that his statement was not a slip of the tongue. It was a pledge.
The Iranians, for their part, have reacted to the new president with a mixture of relief and contempt. On November 6, two days after the US election, Ahmadinejad sent a congratulatory letter to Obama. Ahmadinejad's letter was considered a triumph for Obama's conciliatory posture by the American and European media. But actually, it was no such thing. Ahmadinejad's letter was nothing more than a set of demands, much like those he had set out in a letter to then-president George W. Bush in 2006.
In his missive to Obama, Ahmadinejad laid out Iranian preconditions for a diplomatic engagement with America. Among other things, Ahmadinejad demanded that the US send all its military forces back to America. As he put it, the US should "keep its interventions within its own country's borders."
Ahmadinejad further hinted that the US should end its support for Israel and withdraw its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. In his words, "In the sensitive Middle East region... the expectation is that the unjust [US] actions of the past 60 years [since Israel was established] will give way to a policy encouraging the full rights of all nations, especially the oppressed nations of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan."
The Western media made much of the fact that some conservative press organs in Iran condemned Ahmadinejad for sending the letter. They claimed that this meant that Ahmadinejad himself was tempering his animosity toward the US in the wake of Obama's election. But in fact, most of the conservative media in Iran viewed the letter as an attack on Obama, whom they attacked with racial slurs.
The Sobh-e Sadegh weekly, published by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wrote in an editorial on November 10 that negotiations with Obama would only be worthwhile if "coexistence with a nuclear Iran and acceptance of its regional role are part of the US negotiating position."
On November 11, the Borna News Agency, which is aligned with Ahmadinejad, called Obama "a house slave."
In general, Iran's government-controlled media outlets reported that Ahmadinejad's letter was an ultimatum and that if Obama did not submit to his demands, the US would be destroyed.
This week Ahmadinejad made Teheran's preconditions for negotiations even more explicit. In statements at a political rally on Tuesday, and in a television interview given by his adviser on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said that Iran has two conditions for engaging Washington. First, the US must abandon its alliance with Israel. In his words, to have relations with Iran, the US must first "stop supporting the Zionists, outlaws and criminals."
The second condition was communicated Wednesday by Ahmadinejad's adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr. Echoing Sobh-e Sadegh's editorial, Javanfekr said Iran refuses to stop its nuclear activities.
Notably, also on Wednesday, the US-based International Institute for Strategic Studies released a report concluding that Iran will have a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium to make an atomic bomb in a matter of months.
To summarize, Iran's conditions for meeting with the Obama administration are that the US abandon Israel (which as Ahmadinejad reiterated at his annual Holocaust denial conference on Tuesday, must be annihilated), and that Obama take no action whatsoever against Iran's nuclear program.
FOR ITS part, the Obama administration is signaling that Iran's conditions haven't swayed it from its path toward a diplomatic engagement of the mullahs. In her first statement as US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice said Tuesday, "We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran."
And in his Al-Arabiya interview, Obama implied that the US may be willing to overlook Teheran's support for terrorism when he referred to Iran's "past" support for terrorist organizations. Obama placed a past tense modifier on Iranian sponsorship of terrorism even through just last week a US Navy ship intercepted an Iranian vessel smuggling arms to Hamas in Gaza in the Red Sea. Due to an absence of political authorization to seize the Iranian ship, the US Navy was compelled to permit it to sail on to Syria.
The most sympathetic interpretation of Obama's desire to move ahead with diplomatic engagement in spite of the mullocracy's preconditions is that he has simply failed to countenance the significance of Iran's demands. This means that Obama remains convinced that the US is indeed to blame for the supposed crisis of confidence that the Islamic world suffers from in its dealings with America. By this reasoning, it is for the US, not for Teheran, to show its sincerity, because the US, rather than Teheran, is to blame for the dismal state of relations prevailing between the two countries.
If in fact Obama truly intends to move ahead with his plan to engage the mullahs, then he will effectively legitimize - if not adopt - Teheran's preconditions that the US end its alliance with Israel, which Iran seeks to destroy, and accept a nuclear-armed Iran. And under these circumstances, Israel's next government - which all opinion polls conclude will be led by Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu - will have to adopt certain policies.
First, in keeping with his campaign rhetoric, Netanyahu will have to make preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons his most urgent priority upon entering office.
And second, to withstand US pressure to allow the Obama administration time to develop its ties with Teheran, (time that Iran will use to build its first nuclear bomb), Netanyahu will need to form as large and wide a governing coalition as possible. All issues that divide the Israeli electorate between Right and Left must be temporarily set aside.
In the age of Honest Obama, Israel is alone in recognizing the necessity of preventing Iran from acquiring the means to destroy the Jewish state. Consequently, Netanyahu's government will need to proceed with all deliberate speed to take whatever actions are necessary to prevent Israel's destruction.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.