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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

'Hey Barack - wake up and act like a President' says... Richard Cohen

My old nemesis Richard Cohen wrote a great article in Tuesday's WaPo in which he chides President Obama for continuing to behave like a candidate instead of acting like the President.
No one should believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran seems intent on developing a nuclear weapons program and the missiles capable of delivering them. This -- not the public revelations of a known installation -- is the real crisis, possibly one that can only end in war. It is entirely possible that Israel, faced with that chilling cliche -- an existential threat -- will bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. What would happen next is anyone's guess -- retaliation by Hamas and Hezbollah, an unprecedented spike in oil prices and then, after a few years or less, a resumption of Iran's nuclear program. Only the United States has the capability to obliterate Tehran's underground facilities. Washington may have to act.

For a crisis such as this, the immense prestige of the American presidency ought to be held in reserve. Let the secretary of state issue grave warnings. When Obama said in Pittsburgh that Iran is "going to have to come clean and they are going to have to make a choice," it had the sound of an ultimatum. But what if the Iranians don't? What then? A president has to be careful with such language. He better mean what he says.

The trouble with Obama is that he gets into the moment and means what he says for that moment only. He meant what he said when he called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" -- and now is not necessarily so sure. He meant what he said about the public option in his health-care plan -- and then again maybe not. He would not prosecute CIA agents for getting rough with detainees -- and then again maybe he would.

Most tellingly, he gave Congress an August deadline for passage of health-care legislation -- "Now, if there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town . . . " -- and then let it pass. It seemed not to occur to Obama that a deadline comes with a consequence -- meet it or else.

Obama lost credibility with his deadline-that-never-was, and now he threatens to lose some more with his posturing toward Iran. He has gotten into a demeaning dialogue with Ahmadinejad, an accomplished liar.
Hillary Clinton nailed it during the Presidential campaign when she asked the question about whom you want answering the phone at 3:00 am in a crisis. It's almost 3:00 am. Obama is still out drinking beers with his buddies. He doesn't have a clue how to handle this.

Read the whole thing.

Regarding Obama's not sticking to deadlines, Dore Gold (Israel's former ambassador to the United Nations and author of The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran defies the West) adds:
It is not hard to understand why the Iranians were underwhelmed. After Obama revealed the startling fact that the Iranians had built a secret uranium-enrichment facility — the “size and configuration” of which, according to Obama, showed it was not designed for peaceful purposes — one might have expected him to announce a dramatic shift in U.S. policy toward Iran, away from the policy of engagement that he has promoted. But, unfortunately, Obama’s bottom line was simply a repetition of his longstanding position: “We remain committed to serious meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue though the P5-plus-1 negotiations.”

Some more details about the West’s response came from Pres. Nicolas Sarkozy of France: “If by December there is not an in-depth change by the Iranian leaders, sanctions will have to be taken.” At the last G-8 meeting, in July, Obama and the leaders of the industrial world declared September a firm deadline for the Iranians to make a serious offer to negotiate over their nuclear program. But when the Iranian offer came on September 10, it was described as inadequate by a State Department spokesman. Nevertheless, a day later, it was announced that the U.S. would join the “P-5 plus 1” (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) and negotiate with Iran. The September deadline evaporated. It is probable that Tehran is not worried about the December deadline, either.

If negotiations get dragged out to December and then the West begins experimenting with sanctions, precious time will have been lost. And if further sanctions depend on obtaining a consensus in the U.N. Security Council, Iran will work furiously to complete its race to the nuclear finishing line. When I researched my new book, The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West, I found that numerous Iranian diplomats admitted in Farsi that they used negotiations to play for time and move their nuclear program forward. For this reason, severe sanctions must begin immediately and be tested quickly to see if they have any impact.
Indeed.

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