- - Thursday, October 3, 2013

A week or so ago, the president of the United States picked up the phone and spoke with the president of Iran — the first direct contact between an American president and an Iranian leader since 1979. A historic moment for sure, but is it a game changer?

The president’s ardent supporters think so. They have practically declared the Iranian nuclear crisis all but over. Yet, strangely, the Iranian centrifuges are still spinning and pumping out enriched uranium. Iran is still a state sponsor of terrorism, propping up the regime in Syria and supporting terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza. Iran is still spreading revolution to places such as Bahrain and Central Asia. So what has changed? In truth, nothing except the sales pitch. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a fire-and-brimstone preacher who often offended the sensibilities of the West. His bombastic rhetoric made it easier to rally the world against him. Hasan Rouhani, on the other hand, is a snake-oil salesman whose smile and charm is calculated to deceive. This makes him far more dangerous.

Mr. Rouhani is not a moderate. He has spent three decades as a close aide to the ayatollahs, Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei — not a job one gets, or keeps, unless one is ideologically pure and fanatically loyal.

I have said before that President Obama and his advisers have a dangerous tendency to view world affairs through the prism of a textbook. They see what they would like to see, not reality. This worldview served them badly in Libya, where they wanted to see a stable democracy instead of the reality of a dangerously chaotic country. That blunder cost four Americans their lives. It also served them badly in Syria, where they were outmaneuvered and humiliated by the Russians, costing us significant international prestige and clout. We cannot afford another foreign -policy debacle. Blundering with Iran could cost far more than four lives or a measure of international respect. Miscalculating with Iran could cost millions of lives in a nuclear holocaust.

I am not a warmonger. I do not believe the United States should be the world’s policeman, nor do I believe that military force is the solution to every international problem. I do believe, however, in Ronald Reagan’s doctrine of peace through strength — not Neville Chamberlain’s doctrine of peace through appeasement. Chamberlain’s blunder with Hitler is often wrongly attributed to his being woefully naive about Hitler’s intentions — despite the fact that Hitler had laid out his master plan in writing for the whole world to see. In truth, Chamberlain wasn’t just dangerously naive — his entire theory of foreign policy was dangerously wrong. Appeasement does not work. It did not work in the 1930s. It did not work in the 1990s when President Clinton attempted to appease North Korea in an effort to stop their nuclear bomb project. (Guess what? They have the bomb now.) It will not work in 2013.

Diplomacy can be a vital tool for enhancing American interests. Even Reagan, an ardent anti-communist, was willing to negotiate with the Soviet Union. He did so from a position of strength, though. If Iran is finally, truly serious about resolving this crisis, and not just trying to string us along again, then they will stop enriching uranium and honor all United Nations resolutions — now. Not next week, next month or next year, but now. Sanctions should stay in place until transparent, verifiable procedures are in place to ensure that Iran cannot build an atomic bomb.

As of August, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has produced roughly 186 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium. According to the experts, it takes about 250 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb. Every day the centrifuges spin moves Iran closer to nuclear capability. For well over a decade, the Iranians have strung the world along, always willing to negotiate one more time when the world threatened to increase sanctions. In 2012 alone, our representatives went through three rounds of negotiations — in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow. A toned-down speech at the U.N., a friendly op-ed in The Washington Post, and a symbolic telephone call aren’t the game changers Mr. Obama and his advisers want to think they are. The game changer occurs when the enrichment stops. Anything else is just snake oil.

Former Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, was a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of its Europe, Eurasia and emerging threats subcommittee.