- - Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The circus comes to town Tuesday, and the music from the Big Top, adorned with pretty flags and colorful banners, wafts across Manhattan’s Turtle Bay neighborhood. The main attraction is the prospect of a meeting between President Obama and Hasan Rouhani, the new president of Iran. The credulous world pants in anticipation of a deal over Iran’s rogue nuclear program, but expectations always crash in disappointment at the United Nations.

Both men are scheduled to address the assembled diplomatic multitude from the nooks and crannies of the globe at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Many in the hall will expect a high-wire performance to inspire negotiations over the future of Iran’s nuclear program. But even the White House, where big talk is regarded as action, is skeptical. “It’s possible, but it has always been possible,” Jay Carney, the president’s chief barker, said of a big deal. “The extended hand has been there from the moment the president was sworn in.” Iran, alas, has consistently responded to Mr. Obama’s extended hand with a clenched fist.

Over eight years as Iran’s revolutionary president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reveled in mounting the stage to pepper the assembled diplomats with assurances of the Islamic republic’s commitment to peace, spiced with insults of the United States and vows to “wipe Israel off the map.” Mr. Rouhani, the regime’s chief nuclear negotiator with a demeanor smoothed with soft soap, attempted to sedate the West and cool suspicions of the mullahs and their nuclear ambitions. He demonstrated that it’s easier to roll an adversary with hands open than closed.

Mr. Obama limps into Turtle Bay in the wake of several demonstrations of spectacularly inept judgment. His red-line challenge to Syria, calling Bashar Assad to account for the use of chemical weapons against his own people, ended in his own humiliation when Russian President Vladimir Putin rescued him from his incompetence. Then the elephants in the U.S. House of Representatives stampeded, voting to defund Obamacare, the president’s signature domestic achievement. The vote was largely symbolic, since the Senate is highly unlikely to concur, but it was a powerful symbol, nonetheless.

Mr. Obama may be tempted to risk everything to make a deal with Iran, hoping to shock and awe the world again. He exchanged letters with Mr. Rouhani, who told NBC News a week ago that Iran won’t develop atomic weapons and is “open” to sealing a deal with Western powers to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program.

Mr. Rouhani’s promise of “a different approach” to the 34-year-long diplomatic stalemate with Washington does not impress those who have negotiated with the Iranians. The hands pulling the strings behind the curtain are, after all, those of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Despite the supreme leader’s assurances that his thousands of centrifuges spin enriched uranium in underground bunkers only for peaceful purposes, Tehran remains the hot core of the Islamist ideology, and Iranian money continues to finance Islamic terrorism throughout the world. P.T. Barnum, who knew neither nuance nor modulation, could recognize a circus when he saw one, and his famous warning still applies: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

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