- - Monday, July 6, 2015


Polls show most Americans understand the farcical P5 + 1 Iranian nuclear negotiations are on a disaster course. Nonetheless, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have announced a one week extension to their prior June 30 deadline. Quite favorably, Mr. Obama made clear during a press conference that he will “walk away from the negotiations if in fact it’s a bad deal.” While such declaration reeks of being just another Obama “red line” delivered as political wordsmithing with no intention of ever being followed, it does indicate the clear choice he now has to make: whether to be President Ronald Reagan at Reykjavik or British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in Munich. Walk away or appease and submit. Dignity or disgrace.

In 1986, Mr. Reagan met Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland. With the arms race pressing, the summit was originally set to negotiate limitations on new strategic missiles. Over time, both sides made numerous concessions and even movement toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, a goal of Mr. Reagan’s. Ultimately, however, Mr. Gorbachev had made demands concerning Mr. Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative to which Mr. Reagan was unwilling to agree.

Disappointing some, Mr. Reagan famously walked out of the summit with no agreement. Despite the rhythm of the talks (which often tends to reach a tipping point after which walking away becomes more difficult to accomplish), Mr. Reagan had a vision and a series of promises he had made to his voters concerning national defense. With no assurance of where events would lead, he dynamically exited. Staying strong helped lead to the (at least temporary) collapse of the Soviet Union.

On the surface, the Iranian talks appear to model the reverse. Iran has been threatening nuclear weapons and refusing to give them up unless all its conditions are met. When Mr. Reagan declared that SDI was intended only defensively to protect against rogue nations and as a fail-safe mechanism, Mr. Gorbachev did not trust him. Similarly, most Westerners do not believe Iran’s claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. Just as the threat of SDI gave Mr. Reagan substantial leverage, the Iranians have been able to put the US on a track of endless concessions such that even the most pro-administration press finds it difficult to rationalize the current terms. If Ayatollah Khamenei himself ends the talks, he would comically seize the Reagan high ground.

Nonetheless, Mr. Obama has allowed or ordered Mr. Kerry to sequentially give away all leverage in exchange for a promise that the Iranian regime behave as it has never done before. Mr. Obama has long promoted the liberal notion that we should not change the regime but instead change its behavior; a proposition that, despite years of press accolades, has proved foolish and self-destructive. Some suggest Mr. Obama believes by first affording the regime “respect” through this agreement, it will magically fall in line with Western principles of peaceful co-existence. Whatever Mr. Obama’s rationalization, the deal is a disgrace.

“Reykjavik Redux” would serve a variety of purposes. Many believe Mr. Obama is seeking a legacy. Suggesting that a deal on any terms is preferable to no deal, they argue Mr. Obama will be able to declare Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons on his watch and many years thereafter and that he did all he could to start the world on a march eliminating all such weapons. Ending negotiations would, from this perspective, constitute another failure. Ironically, however, it was Mr. Reagan who first sought to rid the world of such weapons and he accomplished what he did through bargaining from strength. A committed termination of the talks would do more for Mr. Obama’s legacy as any subsequent gains would be attributed to his steadfastness while Iran’s responses would only prove why it couldn’t be trusted.

Terminating the talks would largely reverse every negative impression about Mr. Obama’s Iranian policy cast to date. He began his presidency by offering a diplomatic hand and can now state that he traveled the extra mile(s) only to be met with unreasonable demands that he cannot honorably satisfy. That is leading from ahead.

Exiting is also a positive action that can be packaged for political purposes. Opponents have complained throughout the talks of “appeasement,” comparing Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry to Mr. Chamberlain. Many younger voters have no idea who Mr. Chamberlain was and do not relate to World War II. Appeasement is passive; it has no image. Contrarily, stoically exiting the talks can be symbolized, staged, and pounded visually, fortifying Mr. Obama’s weak image and, in doing so, turn disgrace to dignity.

The maneuver, however, must be executed with serious intention, not as a temporary departure aimed to either extract some meaningless concession only to close shortly thereafter. It must not be done merely to start again from the same point selling the logic that because Mr. Obama was strong enough to walk away he must be smart enough to recognize when to conclude a good deal. This is not a maneuver to cleanse what cannot at this point be cleansed.

Mr. Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both promised that Iran would not obtain nuclear weapons and that containment- restricting their use and the regime’s expansion- is not the policy of the Obama administration. Walking away would pave the way to continue sanctions and other pressure on Iran precisely when most needed. And just as exiting Reykjavik maintained critical pressure on the Soviet Union which later led to a different but more desirable set of agreements in line with Mr. Reagan’s original promises, Reykjavik Redux may create a pathway to an arrangement in the future more in line with Mr. Obama’s promises.

Likely, Mr. Obama remains too committed to this deal, whether out of naiveté’, ego, or ideological compulsion, to ever walk away. Republican opponents would be wise to make the comparison to Mr. Reagan and Reykjavik to further demonstrate that, for those who “knew” Mr. Reagan, either personally or simply as citizens, Mr. Obama is no Ronald Reagan.

Mr. President, you’ve given yourself (and the free world) one last chance. Choose dignity over disgrace!

Bill Siegel is the author of “The Control Factor: Our Struggle to See the True Threat”, published by Hamilton Books.

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