Foreign and Defense Policy

Weak, Carteresque Weak

This morning, the White House released a statement by President Obama on Iran, marking the 30th anniversary of the Iranian seizure of the American embassy and the hostage-taking of its American personnel. It was “a crisis” that would last for 444 days and would become a major reason the Carter administration was ultimately drummed out of office after one term. President Carter was seen as being weak and the American public decidedly rejected that weakness in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

It is worth quoting the heart of the Obama statement:

This event helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation. I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We do not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs. We have condemned terrorist attacks against Iran. We have recognized Iran’s international right to peaceful nuclear power. We have demonstrated our willingness to take confidence-building steps along with others in the international community. We have accepted a proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency to meet Iran’s request for assistance in meeting the medical needs of its people. We have made clear that if Iran lives up to the obligations that every nation has, it will have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community.

Iran must choose. We have heard for 30 years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for. The American people have great respect for the people of Iran and their rich history. The world continues to bear witness to their powerful calls for justice, and their courageous pursuit of universal rights. It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity, and justice for its people.

Weak. Obama’s statement makes the hostage-taking seem as though it arose out of the blue, was something of an accident of history, and that it led to “suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation” on both the American and Iranian side. Well of course it did on the U.S. side but the animus toward “the Great Satan” on the part of Tehran’s new Islamic Republic was part and parcel of its DNA from the start. The hostage crisis was not the cause of 30 years of confrontation but a product of existing anti-American animus. To truly “move beyond” the hostage crisis would require a fundamental change in Iran itself.

But note in that connection how the stolen election in Iran this past summer is passed over and the pledge “to not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs” put forward as though a pledge. Again, weak.

At best—and this would require a very charitable reading—the statement suggests that the door might just be closing for Iran to reach an agreement with Washington. (“It is time for the Iranian government to decide.”) But coming on the heels of the Iranian rejection of the latest offer on its nuclear program, and coming on the heels of the trials of the Iranians who protested the stolen election, and coming on the heels of Iran’s continuing to supply insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan with weapons that kill U.S. and allied soldiers, the message Iran’s leaders will take away is that the Obama administration is still desperate to cut a deal. Weak, Carteresque weak.

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