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Foreign Policy in Voice for Reason
Foreign PolicyMiddle East

Obama Whitewashes Iran

by Elan Journo | March 03, 2009

In his address to the joint session of Congress, President Obama said that “We cannot shun the negotiating table” in conducting our foreign policy. He’s previously elaborated that “if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” And Iran’s president Ahmadinejad tentatively welcomes “talks based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.”

The shared idea, evidently, is that our conflict with Iran stems largely from a past failure to use so-called diplomacy to settle disputes. Alluding to George W. Bush’s supposedly tough policy, Obama has said he wants to restore “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years” ago.

Really? Thirty years ago this November, followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, who spearheaded Iran’s Islamic revolution, stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took the personnel hostage. President Carter gently admonished Iran, but ruled out military retaliation. Instead his advisors spent months dreaming up schemes to bribe Iran into releasing the hostages — while bending over backward to enable the regime to save face. In the end Khomeini’s Islamist theocracy collected a handsome payoff for its aggression, and concluded, rightly, that if attacked, America would crumple to its knees.

Was Obama thinking of the 1980s? In April 1983 Iran’s jihadist proxies in Lebanon rammed a truck bomb into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut; the Reagan administration responded by doing nothing. Months later, encouraged by Washington’s inaction, Tehran issued a kill order — via its ambassador in Syria — to its allied groups in Beirut. Early one morning, an Islamist suicide bomber set off a massive explosion at the barracks where U.S. marines were sleeping and killed 241 of them.

Reagan spouted hot air about not backing down — and soon after ordered the U.S. troops to bug out. The jihadists wanted America out, they slaughtered our troops, and we caved in and gave them what they wanted.

Osama bin Laden, like jihadists in Iran and elsewhere, viewed our response to the Beirut bombings as further proof that their ideologically driven war was a viable cause. And so, inspired by Iranian aggression, the anti-American jihad kept ramping up.

Maybe Obama meant the fabled halcyon days of the 1990s, when President Clinton tried to mend fences with Iran?

In 1996 a team of jihadists — financed and trained by Tehran — blew up the Khobar Towers building in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American servicemen. Clinton’s administration learned that Iran was behind the attacks. But Washington brushed aside any notion of retaliating against Iran, in order to facilitate a “reconciliation” with that murderous regime. In an eerie parallel with today, Iran expressed its openness to U.S. groveling — an opportunity Clinton seized.

So, Clinton attended a speech by Iran’s leader at the U.N.; the administration also permitted the sale of much-needed aircraft parts to Iran, among other sweeteners. Granted the cover of respectability, Iran was emboldened to continue fomenting Islamist aggression and avidly pursue its then-embryonic nuclear program.

Obama’s appeasing diplomacy re-enacts the disastrous policy of the past. Our policymakers evaded Iran’s character as an enemy, and by rewarding its aggression with bribes and conciliation, they encouraged a spiral of further attacks. 

No. Bush was no exception to this trend. After 9/11 his administration invited Iran — the leading sponsor of Islamist terrorism — to join an anti-terrorism coalition(!). Talk of an axis of evil was quickly abandoned, and Washington backed the European scheme to bribe Iran to halt its nuclear program. By late last year, there was talk of opening a U.S. Special Interests Section (a step down from an embassy) in Iran. Meanwhile Bush’s welfare mission in Iraq negated U.S. security and left Iran untouched to grow more powerful and resolute.

A genuinely new, rational policy toward Iran would turn away from the last 30 years and begin by facing up to Tehran’s ongoing proxy war against us.

About The Author

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute