In his address to
the joint session of Congress, President Obama said: “We
cannot shun the negotiating table” in conducting our
foreign policy. He’s previously elaborated that “if
countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they
will find an extended hand from us.” And Iran’s
president Ahmedinijad tentatively welcomes “talks based
on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.”
The shared idea, evidently, is that our conflict with Iran stems largely from
a past failure to use so-called diplomacy to settle disputes. Alluding to George
W. Bush’s supposedly tough policy, Obama has said he wants to restore “the
same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently
as 20 or 30 years” ago.
Really? Thirty years ago this November, followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, who
spearheaded Iran’s Islamic revolution, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Teheran
and took the personnel hostage. President Carter gently admonished Iran, but
ruled out military retaliation. Instead his advisors spent months dreaming up
schemes to bribe Iran into releasing the hostages, while bending over backward
to enable the regime to save face. In the end Khomeini’s Islamist theocracy
collected a handsome payoff for its aggression, and concluded, rightly, that
if attacked, America would crumple to its knees.
Was Obama thinking of the 1980s? In April 1983 Iran’s jihadist proxies
in Lebanon rammed a truck bomb into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut; the Reagan administration
responded by doing nothing. Months later, encouraged by Washington’s inaction,
Teheran issued a kill order—via its ambassador in Syria—to its allied
groups in Beirut. Early one morning, an Islamist suicide bomber set off a massive
explosion at the barracks where U.S. marines were sleeping. He killed 241 of
Reagan spouted hot air about not backing down and soon after that ordered the
U.S. troops to withdraw. The jihadists wanted America out, they slaughtered our
troops, and we caved in and gave them what they wanted.
Osama bin Laden, like jihadists in Iran and elsewhere, viewed our response to
the Beirut bombings as further proof that their ideologically-driven war was
a viable cause. And so, inspired by Iranian aggression, the anti-American jihad
kept ramping up.
Maybe Obama meant the fabled halcyon days of the 1990s, when President Clinton
tried to mend fences with Iran?
In 1996 a team of jihadists—financed and trained by Teheran—blew
up the Khobar Towers building in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American servicemen.
Clinton’s administration learned that Iran was behind the attacks, but
Washington brushed aside any notion of retaliating against Iran, in order to
facilitate a “reconciliation” with that murderous regime. In an eerie
parallel with today, Iran expressed its openness to U.S. groveling—an opportunity
So, Clinton attended a speech by Iran’s leader at the U.N.; the administration
also permitted the sale of much-needed aircraft parts to Iran, among other sweeteners.
Granted the cover of respectability, Iran was emboldened to continue fomenting
Islamist aggression and avidly pursue its then-embryonic nuclear program.
Obama’s appeasing diplomacy re-enacts the disastrous policy of the past.
Our policymakers evaded Iran’s character as an enemy, and by rewarding
its aggression with bribes and conciliation, they encouraged a spiral of further
Bush was no exception to this trend. After 9/11 his administration invited Iran—the
leading sponsor of Islamist terrorism—to join an anti-terrorism coalition.
Talk of an axis of evil was quickly abandoned, and Washington backed the European
scheme to bribe Iran to halt its nuclear program. By late last year, there was
talk of opening a U.S. Special Interests Section (a step down from an embassy)
in Iran. Meanwhile Bush’s welfare mission in Iraq negated U.S. security
and left Iran untouched to grow more powerful and resolute.
A genuinely new, rational policy toward Iran would turn away from the last 30
years and begin by facing up to Teheran’s ongoing proxy war against us.
Elan Journo is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual
Rights, focusing on foreign policy. The Ayn Rand Center promotes
the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The