- - Tuesday, September 24, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz made an enduring contribution to American political life with his famous sequence in which insistent promises by Lucy not to pull away the football overcome Charlie Brown’s hard experience with her unfailing practice of doing so. At the moment, this happens to be a perfect metaphor for what Iran’s newly elected president, Hasan Rouhani, has in store for Barack Obama.

We are told that Mr. Rouhani is yet another Islamist “moderate,” that his election marks a popular repudiation of the hard-line clerical regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and that he is showing an unprecedented willingness to negotiate with the West. His tweets, op-eds and interviews ooze reasonableness. The “smart people” say that now is the time for President Obama to meet with, shake the hand of or otherwise begin directly engaging his Iranian counterpart.

Mr. Obama has already begun this process. He has exchanged letters with Mr. Rouhani, and the administration is signaling that the two leaders’ speeches at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday may afford an opportunity to go further. At a minimum, it seems there will be some sort of symbolic gesture. If possible, Team Obama clearly hopes that — as with the recent initiative that purportedly will disarm Syria’s chemical arsenal — diplomacy can triumph. In this case, that means easing sanctions in exchange for new Iranian promises about their nuclear program.

The trouble with such diplomatic fandangos is that, unlike Lucy and the football, the futility of the exercise — and, worse, its highly counterproductive costs — may not be immediately obvious, as with a mortified Charlie Brown landing flat on his back, yet again.

What we do know, though, is that Mr. Rouhani is the very personification of Lucy. He has been associated with the theocrats of Tehran since they seized power in the wake of the 1979 revolution. His purported “moderation” is all spin — especially since no one, but no one, is allowed to deviate from the dictates of Ayatollah Khamenei. The supreme leader has been unwavering in his determination to realize the ambition of his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to obtain nuclear weapons.

Is there a genuine Iranian desire to reduce or eliminate economic sanctions? Of course. Is there a chance that this will translate into an Iranian willingness to take steps that actually and permanently derail Iran’s covert nuclear-weapons program? No.

What is even more appalling about Mr. Rouhani’s Lucy-and-the-football gambit is that he’s not only done it before, he brags about it.

For example, in an interview with Iranian television, Mr. Rouhani boasted about his past success as his nation’s top negotiator in using diplomacy to buy time for the regime’s secret nuclear developments. The video and an accompanying article by Reza Kahlili, a former CIA operative once highly placed in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, appeared last week in the Daily Caller.

Mr. Kahlili writes: “[Hasan Rouhani] called Iran’s claim that it stopped its nuclear program in 2003 a statement for the uneducated and admitted that the program not only continued, but was significantly expanded under his tenure. While President George W. Bush was increasing pressure on Iran in 2007, a report by American intelligence agencies concluded that Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003 and that the program had remained frozen since.

“In the interview, Rouhani said that after he took over the country’s nuclear project, the country’s 150 centrifuges grew to over 1,700 by the time he left the project. Then, Rouhani made his boldest statement: ‘We did not stop; we completed the program.’”

The old saw goes: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” In fact, the Iranian regime and Mr. Rouhani himself have repeatedly perpetrated fraud on U.S. and Western leaders. Far from feeling any shame, Mr. Obama seems determined to double down — in the process, emboldening Iran and other adversaries, undermining and alienating our friends and diminishing our country.

Seemingly oblivious to the ominous implications of such conduct, some elite journalists and politicians opine that there is no downside to seeing if “Lucy Rouhani” will live up to his latest promise and hold the football this time. In fact, by simply meeting with Mr. Rouhani, let alone by making other, more tangible concessions to Iran’s president, Mr. Obama would confer a legitimacy on the self-professed Iranian con man that is unwarranted. His seeming willingness to reward such flimflammery, moreover, is sure to be compounded by other Western “statesmen” anxious to “do business” with Tehran.

Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona has an idea. Mr. Obama has insisted that what he calls a “credible threat to use force” against Syria caused Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up his chemical weapons. Of course, it remains to be seen whether any such thing will occur. Nonetheless, the president’s stance suggests that he should be open to congressional enactment of an authorization for the use of military force in Iran.

With or without such an authorization, the Iranian mullahs will likely try to fool us again. At least with it in place, they would be on notice that this time, there could be real and potentially devastating consequences for them — not just more mortification for a hapless American Charlie Brown.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan. He is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program “Secure Freedom Radio.”