Loose Canons

Obama’s Coin Toss

A coin in the air is his idea of vigilance.

By 12.9.13


Speaking to a forum on Middle East policy on Saturday, President Obama showed how cavalierly he regards his nuclear deal with Iran. Obama said, “We have to be vigilant about maintaining our security postures, not be naive about the dangers that an Iranian regime poses, fight them wherever they’re engaging in terrorism or actions that are hostile to us or our allies.”

“But,” he added, “we have to not constantly assume that it’s not possible for Iran, like any country, to change over time. It may not be likely. If you asked me what is the likelihood that we’re able to arrive at the end state that I was just describing earlier, I wouldn’t say that it’s more than fifty-fifty. But we have to try.”

This is typical Obama: pose a brave stance at the beginning and then toss off the consequences of being wrong as if they are meaningless. He states the false premises so precisely and carefully that he usually gets away with his pose.

Forget the first passage because it is a distraction and nothing more. Where are we “fighting” Iran in our interests or those of our allies? Nowhere. And when can we maintain our vigilance, if not in the nuclear deal which — again, with precision — it is given away in what the president now characterizes as a coin toss.

Obama and his allies now want us to believe that the consequences of him being wrong — forswearing our vigilance — are so unimportant that he can regard them casually and they can be risked easily.

That is the import of the second passage. Obama is telling the world that there’s really so little at stake that he’s willing to gamble the strategic effect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons against the improbable event that Iran has suddenly become a moderate, just-like-us member of the club of nuclear nations. It may be unlikely that we will get to another stage of agreement, he said. But we have to try, says Obama, regardless of the facts on the ground.

And if we don’t reach any final agreement, we’ll be no worse off than we are now, said Obama in the same speech. That is, of course, only true if Iran doesn’t emulate North Korea and use the time feckless diplomacy allows it to further its development of nuclear weapons.

How he comes to that conclusion is just as bad a mistake as his “coin toss” measurement of risk. In the same speech, Obama said that the election of Hassan Rouhani was caused by the Iranian people and their desire to be relieved of sanctions. What he conveniently leaves out is the fact that Rouhani was hand-picked by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to run in Iran’s Potemkin election precisely because he is a pretend moderate, and for the specific purpose of beguiling Obama into a deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Just as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave voice to Khamenei’s radical terrorist philosophy, Rouhani is just as faithfully in deceiving us that Iran has suddenly changed. He’s a mouthpiece, nothing more.

Obama’s remarks came on the same day as Iranian President Rouhani’s to a student audience. Rouhani said, “Nuclear energy is our absolute right, yes, but the right to progress, development, improving people’s livelihood and welfare are also our rights.”

There are a lot of Obama’s allies out and about trying to sell the idea that Iran really is no threat to us or our allies. They argue that Iran is far from developing a nuclear weapon. They say Iran has not decided to build one and we’ll know when they do because they’ll have to test it. They argue that Iran is a dying nation, its economy destroyed and its people, despising its government, are ripe for another Iranian revolution to throw out the ayatollahs.

These people are deluded by their own ideology. They will always believe that diplomacy can succeed, even when it has failed. They will always believe that no ill will can be imputed to Iran, even though it is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. And they will never believe that things such as nuclear tests can be done without telling the West.

For a nation to produce functioning, deliverable nuclear weapons it has to do many things and Iran has been working diligently at all of them. For about two decades, Iran has been enriching uranium as well as separating plutonium in the enrichment process. Iran has been working for about a decade on developing a nuclear warhead that is small enough to be launched, can survive a ballistic missile launch and still work. It has to design the complex nuclear trigger mechanism that sets off several high explosive charges simultaneously to create a fissile critical mass of enriched uranium or plutonium. Iran is doing that as well.

And, yes, it has to test its design to make sure it works. The North Koreans have exploded at least three nuclear devices. One of them could have been an Iranian-designed weapon or — more likely — they could have sold Iran their working design and included the services of North Korean scientists to help produce Iranian weapons. That obviates Iran’s need to test the design, though they could — and probably would — pay the North Koreans to conduct further tests to refine it.

So it may not be likely, as Obama says, that the six-month deal can do anything but delay us from re-applying the sanctions that Obama thinks brought about the “moderate” Rouhani’s election. We’ll be in no worse shape. It’s no big deal, and — to apply the Hillary Doctrine — what difference can it make?

The difference is that between the likelihood of nuclear war or nuclear terrorism and none of either in the next decade. It’s the difference between a safe supply of Middle Eastern oil and having Saudi Arabia and Kuwait hiking the price of oil — or cutting off the flow — whenever the Iranians tell them to because, at that point, they’d be reduced to Iranian vassals. It’s the difference between Israel being under the threat of conventionally-armed terrorists every day and the addition of missile-borne nuclear weapons being able to deliver on Iran’s often-repeated threat of wiping Israel off the map.

Obama’s allies assure us that none of these things will happen even though many of them already have. It’s worth the coin toss.

To make sure he’s sold his case, Obama sent Vichy John Kerry to Israel last week. His mission was to get Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to back off talking to members of Congress to get more opposition to Obama’s deal with Iran. Kerry sounded the same theme as Obama did several days later: it’s worth a try and you have to give us time.

Kerry’s trip was nothing more than a publicity exercise. One of the principal effects of the deal was to isolate Israel. If it chooses to attack Iran in the next six months, it will become an international pariah, an outlaw nation that refused to allow Obama his chance at a long-term deal. Kerry’s trip last week tried to tighten the vise that Obama is using on Israel.

It may have worked for the time being. Addressing the same Middle East policy forum yesterday, Netanyahu didn’t back away from his position that the deal with Iran is a historic mistake. He said that the world has to get Iran to change its “genocidal policy” toward Israel and that, “I don’t think any of us can overstate the Iranian danger.” But — in a surprising concession — Netanyahu said that any long-term deal has to end Iran’s military nuclear capability. By saying that he appeared to give Obama the six months he wants to negotiate a “final” deal regardless of the risks.

Netanyahu must know that there cannot be a peaceful resolution to Iran’s nuclear weapons ambition. Either we or the Israelis strike Iran’s program with sufficient violence to delay it for many years, or Iran will soon have functioning nuclear weapons and, probably, the means of delivering them.

No nuclear weapon has been fired in anger for 68 years. The principal reason for this is that the United States maintained its vigilance against nuclear war by threatening the use of nuclear weapons in the face of some types of aggression. Obama is doing the opposite, casually risking the possession of nuclear weapons by a nation that cannot be deterred in Cold War terms.

Obama is risking too much, too casually, and if he proves to be wrong there will be hell to pay. In quite literal terms.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.