It was cool and rather instructive to see the way Barack Obama eased his way out of the overblown controversy about the Harvard professor being arrested for breaking into his house.
Let’s all sit down, have a beer, talk it over, said the U.S. president.
That kind of engagement, beer diplomacy, can be a good thing, especially in the wake of the arrogant sabre-rattling of his predecessor.
But with Iran the politics of engagement isn’t working.
Obama has tried to reason with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, proposing talks on the nuclear issue and on regional security. He didn’t get much of a response. Then came the disputed Iranian election, the severe clampdown on protests and now the show trials. All this was combined with the apparent Khamenei policy of full steam ahead on nuclear weapons production.
In a dispatch based on Western intelligence sources, The London Times breathlessly reported yesterday that Iran has already perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead. The Western intelligence sources, one hopes, are better than the likes of Dick Cheney and other charlatans who conned Western media on Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
In any case, Obama’s patience with Tehran is being sorely tested. We recall that in the election campaign Hillary Clinton and John McCain warned him about trying to negotiate with regimes like Iran. So far those cautions look justified.
Obama, who is of part Muslim descent, sees things differently than most American politicians. With his wider perspective, he is better capable of putting himself in someone else’s orbit. He can readily understand, for example, how Iran sees a gross double standard on the nuclear question. As in, “Oh yes, you can have nuclear weapons and Israel can have nuclear weapons but we can’t!”
Obama will be under increasing pressure to adopt a stiffer line, to start issuing ultimatums. Better though he continue with his politics of engagement for some time. Let the Iranian leadership be seen as recalcitrant, let it be seen as not accepting any outstretched hand. In this way there will be a justifiable case, as well as a broad consensus, for assertive actions such as punitive sanctions. In this way there will be no repeat of the flim-flam that triggered the invasion of Iraq.