It’s the Iranian Acquisition of Nuclear Weapons, Stupid: the Centerpiece of President Obama’s Dithering Foreign Policy Failures

–Richard E. Vatz

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has used the felicitous phrase “dithering” to characterize President Barack Obama’s lengthy lead-up to his articulating United States foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I disagree with Vice President Cheney: it is more than a policy-specific Obama weakness; it is his general foreign policy leadership flaw. The single most dangerous manifestation of this flaw is evident in Administration policy towards the evolution of Iran’s nuclear program.

The proclivity of United States presidents to procrastinate on nuclear threats did not begin with Barack Obama — in the last 70 years, see on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor, for example, several presidents regarding the inception of the Soviet nuclear threat, John F. Kennedy’s dithering in the face of the gathering Cuban Missile Crisis (replete with warnings from Republican Senators), and the lackluster opposition generally to nuclear proliferation.

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The President tends to put off foreign policy problems until they become crises or until it is too late to do anything but “manage” them. One could look at Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea, but there is really not a more striking (pun intended) example than Iran.

This is the latest of several blogs this writer has written in the last four months or so concerning the imminent threat of Iran’s attaining nuclear weapons and the effects such an accomplishment could have on worldwide geopolitics. This includes an explosion of new nuclear-acquisitive powers in the Middle East as well as the danger of actual regional or international nuclear war and/or the proliferation of nuclear weapons to non-state actors.

The latest warning – and just the latest warning — that President Obama is preparing to cave in his previously stated promise that Iran would not obtain nukes during this Administration’s watch comes from Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations: “The U.S. is moving away from preventing a nuclear Iran to containing a nuclear Iran — with deterrence based on the Cold War experience,” while Israel understandably sees Iranian nuclear acquisition as an existential threat to the Jewish state.

Administration warnings of the spread of nuclear weapons should focus other governments on the fact that nuclear safety is only as strong as the weakest link. Put slightly differently, the more nuclear powers there are, the more combinations and permutations exist respecting the possibility of nuclear catastrophe. No state as rhetorically irresponsible as Iran has ever acquired nuclear weapons.

The Obama Administration has backed off repeatedly from confronting Iran – surely “dithering” is an accurate, if slightly understated term. It appears there will be no military threat, nor even any support of military action by Israel, from this administration, irrespective of Iran’s march toward joining the Nuclear Club.

The Obama Administration, fixated on the idealistic strategies of negotiation and accommodation, has claimed that prior administrations have unnecessarily exacerbated the threat of Iran’s going nuclear with their arrogance of power. More conservative practitioners of foreign policy have claimed that this Administration is naive and fiddles while the spread of nuclear weapons becomes irreversible.

No one can say there were no warnings…

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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