It is remarkable that President Barack Obama should prove so inept in international negotiation after winning a tough negotiation fight with his domestic rivals. Yet domestic opposition has always focused his attention more than foreign enemies; indeed, there is enthusiasm among the hard-left from whence he emerged that suggests a preference for a weaker America abroad to undermine conservative self-confidence at home.
The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is considering unfreezing billions of dollars in Iranian assets as a way to reward it for progress in nuclear talks without lifting the sanctions that are hurting Iran’s economy. Even those who favor a hard line on Iran like that idea; you need a “carrot” for a “stick” to be effective. The problem, however, is that Obama also wants to take away the stick, postponing future sanctions.
On Iran, it is Congress that has wielded the stick–a point that Kenneth Pollack, in his otherwise excellent book on Iranian negotiations, neglected. The White House has often resisted sanctions, and further debates are likely through the end of the year. Meanwhile, Iran continues along its clear strategy of reaching nuclear breakout potential while offering Obama politically useful sound bites on “understanding.” It is clear who is winning here.