In the photo above, please note the expressions on the faces of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton - this is what "clueless" looks like. In the middle is Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif - he is smiling because Iran has yet again outmaneuvered the West in its quest for a nuclear weapon.
What is distressing is how easily the Iranians are outsmarting Mr Kerry and Ms Ashton. Ashton is also the Right Honorable Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Privy Council (I am not sure what all that means). One would assume that with her resources, she would have learned more about Iranian bargaining. For his part, John Kerry is terribly naive when it comes to the Middle East - if we had followed Kerry's votes in the Senate, Saddam Husayn would still be in Kuwait.
Here is an example of Mr Kerry's naivete. After the preliminary deal was struck in November, Secretary Kerry stated that the agreement does not give Iran the right to enrich uranium. The Iranian negotiators returned home and announced that the West had basically capitulated and granted them the right to enrich uranium. Here is a line from the text of the agreement: "Iran announces that it will not enrich uranium over five percent for the duration of the 6 months." If they are permitted to enrich uranium to the five percent level, it seems to me that they now have the right to enrich uranium. What part of that does Mr Kerry not understand?
The Iranian president on Twitter:
It is hard to argue with that.
I (along with most of the credible intelligence agencies) believe the Iranians are developing a nuclear weapon, or at least the capability to produce a nuclear weapon. Although that may sound like the same thing, the difference is important. It is important because politicians - most of them lawyers by training - will parse words to avoid making tough decisions and taking appropriate actions. As long as they can say that the Iranians do not possess an actual nuclear weapon, they can continue to ignore reality.
The Iranians, for their part, are also playing this game. They are researching, developing and testing all of the individual components required to construct a weapon. Delaying the decision to actually assemble the components allows them and their supporters to claim that they do not possess a weapon.
Iran already has delivery systems for nuclear weapons - a large arsenal of ballistic missiles capable of reaching their declared arch-enemy Israel, as well as most of Europe. These missiles are both indigenously-developed and imported from foreign supporters, primarily North Korea. The North Korean BM-25 missile provides Iran its longest reach.
Despite their claims that they are developing a nuclear power generation capability, their program does not fit the pattern for that - it is too small for that type of project, but perfectly sized to produce an arsenal of nuclear warheads. Iran does not need nuclear power - it flares off more energy as waste from its oilfields than a program this size could ever produce.
Yet, the American administration is willing to give the Iranians the benefit of the doubt. As evidenced by the last two meetings in Vienna - one in February and one just this week - the two sides are no closer than they were in November of last year. All the Iranians have really agreed to is to continue to talk - they will meet again in Vienna on April 7. That has been their position for the last decade.
Every time world opinion seems to go against the Iranians and their nuclear ambitions, they agree to yet another round of talks. The result of each of the talks is always the same. They agree that there is an issue that needs to be resolved, and agree to new talks. In all of that time, nothing - nothing - has been done on the part of the Iranians to halt or delay their enrichment programs and acquisition of the capabilities they will need to assemble a nuclear warhead. The so-called agreement reached in November has yet to be enforced.
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif called last week's talks "very successful...in terms of understanding and clarification, Vienna-2 was among our very successful round of talks...extremely beneficial and constructive." That means he was successful in kicking the can down the road, yet again buying more time for the centrifuges at Natanz to enrich uranium.
The Iranians are playing us, and playing us well. Secretary of State Kerry is so anxious for a foreign policy success, any success, that he is willing to be played for the illusion of a deal with Iran. We don't need illusions, we need a foreign policy that serves our national interests, and the interests of our allies. A nuclear-armed Iran is in no one's interest.
Given this administration's consistent policy failures in the Middle East - Egypt is fast turning to the Russians as we refuse to deal with the new government, Libya is devolving into chaos, Syria is an opportunity lost on several occasions, the Gulf Arabs are questioning our commitment to their security, and Israel wonders if we are still an ally - Kerry is desperate.
How about we simply tell the Iranians that we will not permit them to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon? The President is always saying, "Let me be clear."
Well, Mr President, here's your chance. Wake up.