July 19, 2009

Iran's Foreign Policy Success

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmandinejad has become the poster boy for the pariah nation that Iran has become since the brutal repression of post-election violence during the last month. Reaction in the West ranged from outright condemnation to President Obama being "appalled and outraged."

Despite the actions of the regime, President Obama is still willing to engage the Iranian leadership. He has repeatedly reached out to them, and each time his approaches have been soundly rebuffed. Although the Iranians claim that they want to improve relations with the rest of the world, their actions just do not match the rhetoric.

Perhaps this has all been part of Ahmadinejad's policy all along - talk a good game, sound like you are willing to meet the West halfway. All the while, keep the Natanz unranium enrichment facility centrifuges spinning, keep improving Iran's ballistic missile capabilities, continue the research and development of a nuclear weapon, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, present the world with a fait accompli - simply announce that Iran is now a nuclear-armed nation.

Why would Ahmadinejad not do just that? Fear of sanctions from the West? The West has proven itself to be feckless by any measure in halting Iran's nuclear ambitions. I say "the West" because it will have to be a coalition of concerned European nations and the United States that has any potential to take effective action against Iran. The United Nations cannot, thanks to the veto power of Security Council permanent members Russia and China - there is too much money to be made in Iran for them to take a principled stand.

Thus far, the West has only threatened to increase (the already useless) sanctions against Iran. When they do, Iranian leaders mount a "charm offensive" and offer to "talk." What that really means is that they agree to talk about talking - never do these "talks" ever get to the point of discussing anything substantive.

Iran's objective: Obfuscate, downplay, waffle, appear cooperative, but above all, delay. Delay long enough to achieve the one capability they believe will make them the major power broker in the Middle East - nuclear weapons. Everyday that Iran is willing to "talk" is another day of uranium enrichment activities, another day closer to achieving their goal. There are already 5000 centrifuges in operation with another 2000 being installed.

Say what you will about Iran's quirky leadership - from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the newly appointed national Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi - they have spoken with one voice and have not taken their eye off the prize.

In typical Iranian rhetorical fashion, Salehi, an American-educated nuclear physicist, stated, "Legal and technical discussions about Iran's nuclear case have finished - there is no room left to keep this case open. We hope that more efforts will be made (by the West) in order to obtain mutual confidence instead of the past six year's hostile era and this case...will be closed as soon as possible." Simply declare something not to be a problem any longer, and proceed like it is not.

The Iranians have been enriching uranium since at least 2002. Despite repeated United Nations (and its International Atomic Energy Agency) and Western demands and limited (and ineffective) sanctions, Iran is aggressively pursuing its goals without interruption, assessing - accurately - that the West is either unwilling or incapable of stopping it.

That is a successful foreign policy. We should take a lesson.