The latest Wikileaks document dump, filled mostly with low-grade diplomatic communications, does lay bare one thing that should have been painfully obvious all along: President Obama's Iran strategy.
Here's part of the New York Times write-up:
... the cables ... show how President George W. Bush, hamstrung by the complexities of Iraq and suspicions that he might attack Iran, struggled to put together even modest sanctions.
They also offer new insights into how President Obama, determined to merge his promise of “engagement” with his vow to raise the pressure on the Iranians, assembled a coalition that agreed to impose an array of sanctions considerably harsher than any before attempted.
When Mr. Obama took office, many allies feared that his offers of engagement would make him appear weak to the Iranians. But the cables show how Mr. Obama’s aides quickly countered those worries by rolling out a plan to encircle Iran .... the administration expected its outreach to fail, but believed that it had to make a bona fide attempt in order to build support for tougher measures.
In other words, the Obama Administration has been approaching the Iran problem the way a sane person applying common sense would do: using every available tool, offering friendship for cooperation and punishments for backsliding, and trying to manage the public relations so that Iranian intransigence looks like what it is. In the old days, Republicans called this "speaking softly and carrying a big stick." It's a pretty good approach.
By contrast, the old George W. Bush approach to diplomacy was "shout a lot and break your stick in half to show them how tough you are." This is an optimal strategy for getting beaten up and thrown out of bars. It puts bluster ahead of getting things done, so much so that it undermines the blusterer's power. Note that Bush the Younger couldn't get much happening in the way of sanctions, but Obama could.
If you don't trust the Times reporters, here's an excerpt from a raw document, as a US Treasury official briefs the EU on the new Administration's Iran strategy (April 8, 2009):
To be sure, "engagement" would be an important aspect
of a comprehensive strategy to dissuade Iran from acquiring
nuclear weapons. However, "engagement" alone is unlikely to
succeed. Diplomacy's best chance of success requires all
elements combining pressure and incentives to work
simultaneously, not sequentially.
If that doesn't spell it out for you, here it is: Obama makes gestures of friendship and engagement toward Iran because that is part of the game. Meanwhile, he puts pressure on them from every direction he can in order to force them into accepting his "friendship" on his terms. If you still do not understand how this works, please rent The Godfather. Don Corleone knows how to make friends.
Why does Obama not say, "I am reaching out my hand to Iran as part of a larger strategy to wrestle them into a half nelson?" Because if he admits that the gesture is a pretense, the pretense doesn't work. This, too, should be obvious.
While we're on the topic of the obvious, the document dump reveals Defense Secretary Gates's common sense prediction about how a unilateral attack on Iran's weapons facilities would work:
any strike “would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.”
See how that goes? Short-term win, long-term and permanent fail, with Iran ending up nuclear and hostile for at least a generation. As strategies go ... well, actually that isn't even a strategy. Obama has a plan to squeeze the Iranians to delay and derail their nuclear ambitions, while trying to build bridges to the Iranian people for the future. The American right wants to just attack Iran instead, which won't actually stop their nuclear program but will turn them into implacable nuclear-armed enemies by 2016 or so, in time for a possible Republican President to discover there's nothing left to do about Iran. It's genius.
Now, all of the above should have been obvious to everyone capable of reading a newspaper. But the American right has been dead-set on misunderstanding Obama. Here's a representative selection from September, 2009. The blogger is Scott Johnson of Powerline:
If any sentient person had serious doubt, last week's news that Iran has a covert uranium enrichment facility under construction at a military base outside Qom should serve to clarify Iran's intent to obtain nuclear weapons. News that Obama had been briefed on the existence of this facility during the transition makes it difficult to understand what Obama has said and done about Iran since then. [Emphasis mine] His statements and actions need to be reconsidered in light of the state of his knowledge. In the spirit of inquiry I offer the following premises and tentative theses:
1. In statements going back to the primary campaign, Obama repeatedly referred to Iran's prospective acquisition of nuclear weapons as unacceptable and stated that no option to prevent it should be taken off the table. Yet Obama accepts the legitimacy of Iran's nuclear program and will do nothing to retard it.
2. Obama has known about the second Iranian enrichment facility since the transition.
3. Obama has repeatedly demonstrated an eagerness to avoid confrontation with the Iranian regime -- to the point of fawning over the regime. He prides himself on accepting the legitimacy of the Iranian regime. [Emphasis mine]
4. Obama made nuclear disarmament the theme of his speech before the UN Security Council last week and secured the passage of a related resolution. Although Obama called for "full compliance with Security Council resolutions on Iran and North Korea," he emphasized that the resolution (which named no country) was "not about singling out individual nations."
It goes on for another eight theses, by which point Johnson has persuaded himself that Obama's goal is to pressure Israel into disarming. That's ludicrous, but it is also one of the tamer responses to Obama's Iran policy from the right blogosphere. When Obama claims that a UN resolution manifestly aimed at Iran and North Korea isn't aimed at them, Johnson is dumb enough to take that denial literally. (Luckily, the Iranian and North Korean regimes are not. Those bastards know perfectly well that the President of the United States is not their friend.) Johnson can't even recognize an indirect and understated threat as a threat, let alone understand why such threats might be more effective than loud obvious ones. When Obama speaks softly, Johnson decides that he isn't carrying a stick.
Like all neocons, Johnson prefers what I like to call the Gangster Rap School of Diplomacy: shouting a lot about how tough you are in the most public forum possible, and making threats without worrying about how to back them up. This is what the American right now understands as "toughness." They couldn't be more wrong.