Obama, Like Carter, Will Not Act Against Iran

How the president is reviving the U.S.'s "paper tiger" image.

President Barack Obama is hoping that the P5+1 talks with Iran can stave off Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb. But, those recently held in Moscow (June 18-19, 2012), with the participation of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and Iran, like previous talks in Istanbul (April 14, 2012) and Baghdad (May 23-24, 2012) have produced little beside “feel good” sentiments among the participants.  The Islamic Republic of Iran is poised to develop a nuclear bomb and the means to deliver it with long-range missiles that can hit the U.S. (short and medium range missiles that can hit Israel and Europe are already available to Iran ).  While the talks ensue, the centrifuges spin and give Iran the time they need to bring them to the point of no return.

The world powers, while seemingly standing by the demands for Iran to halt uranium enrichment before it reaches the 20% level needed to make an atomic bomb, have been unwilling to make their demand a reality with a determined threat of military action.  Russia and China will not permit the military option.  The real question, however, is why the U.S. and its Western allies have not either.

The reluctance of President Obama to consider military action against the Iranian regime is reminiscent of President Jimmy Carter’s inaction when faced with the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran invading the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and taking 52 American diplomats hostage; an action which constituted an act of war against the U.S.  The invasion, on November 4, 1979, was executed with the blessings of the Ayatollah Khomeini - the then new leader of Iran.

Ahmed Khomeini, the Ayatollah’s son, charged with serving as a liaison between the regime and the “students” occupying the embassy would later reveal in his writings that his father expected “thunder and lightening” from Washington - a decisive military operation that would free the hostages and punish the Iranian regime’s terrorist action.   Instead, the Carter White House displayed weakness with its half-hearted statements, among which included a plea to release the hostages on “humanitarian grounds.”  President Carter showed no interest or intent in using military action.

Khomeini recognized Carter’s weakness and mocked his administration as acting “like a headless chicken.”  Moreover, Carter wrote a personal letter to Khomeini in longhand pleading with an appeal from "one believer to a man of God." Khomeini’s reaction was "we shall cut off America’s hands."

Obama’s June 4, 2009, Cairo speech, pleaded with the Muslim world and Iran in a similar manner. “In Ankara, I made clear that America is not, and never will be at war with Islam…Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.  The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build. I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude, and resolve.  There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect.”

Obama continued, “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not.  No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons.  And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons.  And any nation, including Iran, should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I'm hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.”

CBS News reported that during the Democratic primaries Barack Obama promised to meet the leaders of Iran "without preconditions."  Within days of his election, the State Department began drafting a letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intending to pave the way for face-to-face talks. Then, less than a week after taking office, Obama told al-Arabiya's satellite network, "If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us." The president dispatched former Defense Secretary William Perry to engage a high-level Iranian delegation led by a senior Ahmadinejad adviser.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, responded to Obama’s pleading by stating that the "U.S. President said that we were waiting for the day when people would take to the streets. At the same time they write letters saying that they want to have ties and that they respect the Islamic Republic. Which are we to believe?"

While the Iranian leaders, be it Khomeini, Ahmadinejad, or Khamenei seek to intimidate their enemies, weak American presidents like Carter and Obama find answers in appeasement.  Carter shied away from military confrontation, and only after months of pondering a possible military operation and, what resulted in fruitless State Department back-channel negotiations with the Iranians, did Carter give the “go ahead” in April of 1980 for action to be taken.  The decision came five months after the American hostages were taken, the U.S. embassy invaded, and America humiliated and proved to be a disaster for America, signaling to America’s Islamic enemies that the U.S. was a “paper tiger.”

President Obama, much like President Carter, has refrained from taking action against Iran.  He stayed on the sidelines when more than a million Iranians marched in the streets of Tehran in protest over the stolen elections by Ahmadinejad, in the summer of 2009.  These days he is relying on talks to settle the nuclear issue with the Iranians, when it is clear to everyone that Iran has no intention of stopping its race towards a nuclear bomb. Moreover Obama is doing everything to stop Israel from taking military action while such action is still possible.

Various Obama administration officials have let it be known, in what has become a mantra, that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would only delay Iran’s program by only 1-3 years.  Ret. Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the United States Army, response to that is, “My judgment tells me that if we did something as devastating as we could do, taking down their major sites, which also means their engineers and scientists, I think the setback would be greater than five years. I don’t like to read too much into people’s motivations, but at times when we don’t want to do something, we build a case in terms of our interpretation that it is too hard or it isn’t worth the payoff.”

According to Keane, a retired four-star general, the Obama administration, with all its talk about preventing Iran from getting a bomb, isn’t willing to attack militarily. “I don’t believe this administration has any intention, ever, of attacking Iran.”  He continued, “I don’t believe it, the Israelis don’t believe it, and the Iranians don’t believe it.”

Obama much like Jimmy Carter is proving to the Iranians and to the Islamic world in general, that America is on the decline, and lacks the will to fight for its global security interests. The Obama administration has already invoked containment of a nuclear Iran as a default option for the U.S. Before this happens, the administration should carefully weigh the costs, and risks of such a policy.  In the meantime, the talks with Iran are used by Obama to excuse his military inaction.

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