After being snubbed by Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani at the UN last week, President Barack Obama clawed back some respect–in the eyes of the American media, if not the world–with a 15-minute telephone call. It was the first time presidents from the two countries had spoken in more than three decades. The news was greeted with articles anticipating a “breakthrough” in nuclear talks, perhaps even the easing of sanctions.
President Obama can take some perverse pride, perhaps, in having finally fulfilled his ill-conceived 2007-2008 campaign promise to speak with American enemies “without preconditions.” For the nation as a whole, that 15-minute conversation is a giant leap backwards. It came at no cost to the Iranian regime, even as news broke that it had launched a massive and unprecedented cyberattack against U.S. naval computers.
The call also granted a new degree of legitimacy to the Iranian regime, granting stature to a government that was “elected” from a narrow range of candidates and that replaced an administration that had been imposed on the Iranian people by force in 2009. There was no mention, apparently, of the slaughter in Syria, in which Iran is playing a key role. The lives of innocents abroad are expendable in service of Obama’s domestic image.
The problem is not negotiation in itself. The problem is the posture from which President Obama is negotiating. Given its ongoing violation of UN Security Council resolutions, its support for terrorism around the world, its suppression of human rights at home, plus its desire to get rid of sanctions (that the Obama administration imposed only reluctantly), the Iranian regime should be asking the U.S. for talks, not the other way around.
Evidently, the White House chooses to view the election of Rouhani as such a request in disguise. So, too, does the Obama-friendly media, such as CNN, which deliberately mistranslated Rouhani’s remarks to make it appear as though he accepted the facts of the Holocaust and therefore broke with his fanatical, hateful predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In fact, there is little difference in substance between the two figureheads.
Today, and historically, Iran only negotiates when threatened. It slowed its nuclear plans, for example, in 2003, when it feared George W. Bush might invade. By grasping for any sign of progress, President Obama has signaled that a military option is off the table, especially after his reversal on Syria, and despite his words to the contrary. The stage-managed protests against Rouhani in Iran should fool no one. He returned a victor.