Sometimes a warm smile, an outreached hand and a "Howdy, you all," just doesn't pay. If the WaPo report is at all accurate, the ayatollah has rejected in a manner most rude the blandishments and happy talks offered repeatedly by Mr Obama. Golly, it seems that the Geekmo's old mom was wrong when she advised, "Friendliness brings friendliness in return." (Don't you just hate it when mom's advice turns out to be well intended but as wrong as a soup sandwich?)
Of course, the calender is rapidly approaching the thirtieth anniversary of the fulcrum day in US-Iranian relations. Tomorrow marks Year Thirty--America Held Hostage (as ABC used to put it during the long, dark days of the "hostage crisis.") and, presumably, Khamenei does not wish to appear weak in comparison to his predecessor and the "students" he set forth on the US embassy in Tehran. And, the record demonstrates that boorishness and bluster has served the mullahs and their bullyboys quite well over the past three decades.
Before the Iranian Revolution came along, the game of nations had well developed customs, rituals, and even rules. These were observed--at least in form if not substance--by such ambitious or devious leaders as Joe Stalin and the jacked up one time corporal, Adolph Hitler. The US has always been a rather scrupulous observer of these assorted diplomatic gavottes despite occasional lapses into unsavory (c)overt operations.
It still offends our amour propre when other countries do not play by the rules, observe the liturgies, and generally act like rabid rhinos in rut across the staid field of diplomacy. Well, to quote a line from a Sixties vintage folk type tune, "When will they ever learn?"
The "they" in this case is not the Iranians. They have nothing to learn. They have been playing a game of their own devising on fields of their choosing, according to rules of their own manufacture. All with great success. And, it is hard to argue with success.
The "they" is the Obama administration. There is nothing to be gained by sweetness and light, by honeyed words, by soothing mood music when dealing with the Iranian regime. While the oft repeated refrain from Tehran is that the Iranians want to be treated with "dignity and respect," their actions over the years show that the only fact of life respected by the mullahs and their henchmen is the unpleasant fact of credible force.
This reality was demonstrated quite well in the immediate aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. While there is no probability that the so-called "grand bargain" would have been consummated, there is also no doubt that the invasion captured the full, undivided, and quite anxious attention of the mullahs, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Iranian people generally.
That the Bush/Cheney administration failed to take immediate advantage of the fleeting opportunity does not erode the power of the message. And, that power still exists.
The regime in Tehran and Qom know to their bones that Iran cannot withstand, the regime cannot keep itself in power, if hit by a real attack. The boast and bluster which colors so much of Tehran's rhetoric is a strong indication of a deep seated apprehension of what would happen if the country were to be attacked by an overwhelmingly superior force.
The US was such a force in 2003. It is just as much of a force six years later even with the costs and stresses of two wars in the interim. The Iranian regime knows this.
In a very real way the latest thundering denunciations by Khamenei remind the Geek of the posturing of Stalin in the days following the end of World War II. The Red Army had been bled so heavily it was, at best, a pale shade of pink. The Soviet infrastructure was in ruins. If George Patton had been allowed to proceed with his semi-jocose notion of arming his German PoWs and joining them to Third Army in a drive to Moscow, the Red Army would have folded and folded very fast.
Stalin's only weapon to deter the supposed "imperialist camp's" desire to invade was a mixture of tough talk and diplomatic obstructionism. It worked because the US had neither the desire nor the will to deal terminally with the Soviets.
Saddam Hussein talked tough, particularly regarding his weapons of mass destruction because, as he himself admitted, he hoped the US would believe the mythical threat. If the US did, so also, Saddam hoped, would the Iranians. Unintentionally he talked the talk so convincingly that the US abated the presumed nuisance. The fact that the US was wrong in its pre-war apprehensions in no way undercuts the effectiveness of Saddam's talk based strategy of survival. It actually serves to ex post facto justify it.
The Iranian tough, rejectionist talk along with its constant insistence on its own military capacities falls in the same general category as the diatribes of Stalin and his underlings and the threats of Saddam. It is a dangerous game to play as the historical examples indicate. Still, it has a chance of success, as the legacy of Stalin's game plan demonstrates.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is (to use a line from the film, The Dirty Dozen,) "very pretty, but can it fight?" Not well enough to deter or defeat an opponent such as the US. The Iranians could cause global oil prices to spike through the simple fear of closing the Straits of Hormuz or attacking tankers with Zodiacs. Tehran could make life unpleasant for Israel if Hezbollah and Hamas actually follow orders.
None of the possible countermeasures available to Tehran amount to the capacity to put the US through more than a brief period of unpleasantness. None constitute the ability to confront us all with a "world historical moment."
The possession of a nuclear capacity would present the US and the world generally with the potential that a genuine "world historical moment" had arrived. With nuclear muscle behind them, the mullahs could not only continue the momentum of the Iranian Revolution but alter permanently the balance of power in the regions of the Mideast, Persian Gulf, and Northwest Asia and have a powerful impact on the global balance and the web of relations which has maintained it since the early Nineties.
There is no room for rapprochement with Iran on the nuclear issue. Nor is there room for anything approximating appeasement. Niceness does not haul any freight in Tehran. And, a nice smile and pleasant words will not bring the mullahs to desiring compromise and a seat in the council of civilized states.
It may not yet be quite the time for a shootout at the Persian Gulf Corral, but it is past time for realizing that bare knuckle (or better yet, brass knuckle) brawling with the mullahs and their frontmen is necessary. This means cutting a deal with fellow Great Power, Russia. It means letting the Chinese know there will be (severe) consequences in the trade realm if they do not stop running interference for Tehran.
It also means (oh, horrors! say it ain't so!) cutting back on the great Transformational Agenda so that we do not give Beijing more control over our diplomatic autonomy by holding even more of our notes. It means telling We the People just what is at stake in the Iranian nuclear issue and what risks and costs would be entailed if we do nothing or if we take direct, robust action.
It means Mr Obama must finally understand that international politics is not the same as organizing a neighborhood by the tactics of Saul Alinsky. (Personal note to former community organizer Obama, the Geek worked with the Back of the Yards entity before you were born. And, employed the principles of Rules For Radicals in Southeast Asia with great effect--before you had picked up a single ACORN.)
Whether Mr Obama is up to the challenge represented by the Iranian reality is up in the air. So far there is nothing in his presidential career to suggest that he is. One can only hope that he is able to change.