The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Obama Gets Tough On Iran

Innocent until proven guilty say the lawyers – and as a matter of law that is true of those accused in Iran’s alleged assassination plot on the Saudi ambassador to the US. The story is still fresh and without all the facts, but whether the ball ends in foul or fair territory, US-Iranian relations are in a new and ugly state. From the FT:

The plot was part of a $1.5m “international murder-for-hire scheme” directly linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite military force, said Eric Holder, attorney-general…

Hilary Clinton, US secretary of state, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the plot “crosses a line that Iran needs to be held account for”. She said that she and President Barack Obama wanted to enlist more countries to work against what she called a “clearer and clearer threat” from Iran.

US officials say the administration will lobby for new international sanctions as well as for individual nations to expand their own penalties against Iran.

Many in the press aren’t swallowing the story whole – call it post-Saddam WMD skepticism. But the growing regional opposition to Iran has united Turkey, the Saudis and the United States in a tightening anti-Iranian entente.  As if to make matters worse, Tehran has taken to threatening Turkey over the NATO early-warning radar system and appears to be cozying up with the PKK terrorists that have long been a thorn in Turkey’s side.

While some are skeptical, and Secretary Powell and company’s performance in the run up to the Iraq war has made many of us more hesitant to take the word of even a respected Secretary of State on faith, it seems unlikely that the Holder Justice Department would make this up out of whole cloth.  The plot allegations have received unusually heavy public backing from top US officials; it seems unlikely that the White House, Attorney General Holder and Secretary of State Clinton would nail their colors so firmly to the mast unless they were very confident that these charges have substance behind them.

I have written in the past that many people in the US and abroad underestimate the determination that President Obama is capable of bringing to bear against Iran.  President Obama came into office planning to open a dialog with Iran; he got nowhere, and Iran’s nuclear program is a direct threat to the president’s cherished goal of moving the world away from the creation and potential use of nuclear weapons.  Iran’s encouragement of Palestinian rejectionism is a direct threat to the President’s hopes for regional peace.  President Obama has good reason to be fed up with Iran, and it appears that he is.  The release of the assassination plot charges represents a very public turn of the screw: the US and its allies are doing what they can to push Tehran onto the defensive and to bounce it out of the Arab world.

The stakes are high, the situation is fluid; fasten your seat belts, friends.  We have entered an area of turbulent air.

Published on October 12, 2011 8:31 pm
  • Richard F. Miller

    I too was skeptical. After all, Holder is facing subpoenas (since issued today) and about the only blip Obama’s numbers have shown in the past nine months was when he hit UBL.

    But when I saw House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers vouch that this was the real deal, and his counterpart in the Senate, Diane Feinstein do the same (she’s one of the few serious Democrats on foreign policy matters), I was persuaded.

    On intelligence matters, most of us are left with argumentum ad verecundiam–so I try to select my authorities carefully. Rogers’ willingness to vouch for Holder on this one is worth something.

  • nadine

    “I have written in the past that many people in the US and abroad underestimate the determination that President Obama is capable of bringing to bear against Iran.”

    Count me among them. Obama has proven himself incapable of strong action. Obama is all talk.

    “President Obama has good reason to be fed up with Iran, and it appears that he is.”

    I expect Obama to give Iran a really strong scolding. That’s what he’s done to all the other parties he’s fed up with.

    The only action Obama is capable of is some idiotic alliance with Erdogan, the megalomaniac Islamist of Ankara. Who is an ally of Tehran. Such an alliance would fit within the “internationalist” straightjacket that Obama has put upon himself. It would also contravene American interests, but then, so has all the rest of Obama’s Mideast policy so far.

  • Gene

    What in this post demonstrates its title?

  • Paul M. Neville

    If your analysis is correct why in the world did the Department of Defense spokesman rush to take a military option off the table. Are they that incompetent or is there rebellion in the ranks to any sort of rational national defense policy?

  • Fred

    The Obama administration will issue sternly worded warnings, try (unsuccessfully) to beg or bribe Russia and China into letting the UN pretend to do something, and then drop the subject when the collective drooling, mouthbreathing moron that is the American public moves on to something else. Obama doesn’t have the stones to confront Iran in any way that will matter.

  • dearieme

    “it seems unlikely that the Holder Justice Department would make this up out of whole cloth”: yeah, uncritically accept the word of gun-runners.

  • WigWag

    “Tehran has taken to threatening Turkey over the NATO early-warning radar system and appears to be cozying up with the PKK terrorists that have long been a thorn in Turkey’s side.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Why does Professor Mead call the PKK a terrorist organization? Doesn’t he realize that according to Turkish nomenclature, the PKK are freedom fighters? After all, if Turkey doesn’t think Hamas is a terrorist organization why should the rest of us think that the PKK is a terrorist organization?

  • WigWag

    Professor Mead’s take on this is interesting; but not everyone is as convinced of Obama’s resolve as he is. Barry Rubin has an interesting view of what the Iran story means for the Obama Administration; he thinks it’s potentially disastrous for the President.

    Rubin believes that if the Administration is exaggerating the story it will make Obama look desperate. He believes that if the story is true, and Obama doesn’t take decisive action against Iran for planning a terrorist attack on American soil, than Obama will look incredibly weak.

    To some extent Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

    Rubin’s view can be found here,

    http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/

  • Jason Hoffman

    Dr Mead,
    I hope you are right that this administration has become fed up with Iranian aggression.But I’m not holding my breath.Iran is currently killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.And has been for a while.No response.It is actively subverting the government of Lebanon through its proxy Hezbollah.And has been for awhile.No response.It is assisting Syria in mowing down its own citizens.And has been for awhile.No reponse.It is actively supporting Hamas/Fatah and thus undermining the prospects for peace…and has been for awhile.No response.It is currently torturing,raping and killing its own citizens and denying Iranians other basic human rights,including the right to pick their leaders,most prominently since June 2009.The hopes and and desires of Iranians,in contrast with Egyptians and Libyans,are ignored and downplayed by this Administration and the snipers and motorcycle thugs prevailed.No response.The Iranian regime has ignored treaty obligations and world opinion and heads full speed towards a nuclear weapon.The reponse–sanctions–might as well be no response.Al Quaeda is actively and passively aided and indeed sheltered within its borders.Nothing.Now men,women and children are threatened–or literally blown up–from Argentina to Central Asia to the United States and the Adminstration speaks of a dangerous escalation,something the Saudis and other Arabs have been warning about since Day 1 and something Obama has stubbornly ignored from Day 1.Instead we’ve gotten unbridled faith that the Iranians could be made to see reason or that the international community could be brought to bear and sufficiently isolate Iran,something the regime wants so that it can justify its hold over its own people.Not all of this can be attributed to this Administration–many have failed here–but the problem has indeed dangerously escalated under Obama.I do not believe for a second that the Administartion wants to take on Iran in any meaningful fashion.As far as most of them are concerned we are the problem and have been since 1953.I believe that our only hope is political expedeciency(an election),the bureacracy..military,intelligence,State Dept…and Congress will force the issue.

  • standfast24

    Obama has failed to show any resolve with Iran.
    Why start now ?

  • dearieme

    Of course the PKK are freedom fighters, it’s just that their chosen tactic is terrorism. Much like John Brown, in fact.