The West's nuclear standoff with Iran has been going on forever. OK, maybe not quite forever, but it sure feels like forever. It was 2002 when the world figured out Iran was building a secret uranium-enrichment facility. Just think about how different the world was in 2002.
Back then, Barack Obama was still an Illinois state senator. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an engineering teacher. A solid majority of Americans still thought "retarded cowboy" was a winning foreign policy. Instead of Nickelback, we had Creed. And back in '02, it was difficult to get through a day without hearing the phrases "J. Lo," "hot in here," or "voted off the island."
Much has changed, but the Iran situation persists. Iran swears to Allah its nuclear program is for peaceful power-generation and that the rest of the world should mind its own effing business.
Meanwhile, the U.S., Europe and the United Nations claim Iran's nuclear program already has broken too many of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's rules to be trusted with a nuclear fuel-enrichment program of any sort. Even if Iran has no intention of building a nuclear weapon today, the process of enriching radioactive fuel for nuclear power reactors is so similar to the process of making fuel for nuclear weapons that it doesn't matter what Iran intends to do.
Then there's the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime's vocal animosity toward Israel. Israeli leaders think a nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to Israel – never mind the fact that Israel has enough land, air and sea-based nukes to flatten every large Iranian city several times over.
So how do we get over this impasse? The original Bush method was flat-out belligerence. During the spring of 2003, Iran sent flirty love notes to the Bush administration hinting that it wanted to resolve the longstanding tension between the nations through a series of negotiations.
According to Flynt Leverett, former Bush administration senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council, the Iranian overture made clear that Iran would consider shutting down its nuclear program in exchange for normalized relations with the U.S.
Drunk on what it perceived in early 2003 to be its successful invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration rebuffed Iran's overtures. Within months, however, Iraq fell to pieces and the U.S. found itself in a much weaker position vis-à-vis Iran. The bulk of the U.S. military was tied down in Iraq, and Iranian influence over Iraq began to grow as Shiite Iraqi politicians with close ties to Iran rose to power in Iraq. Conventional wisdom sayeth that if the U.S. attacked Iran to thwart its nuclear program, then Iran could retaliate by whipping up a sectarian shit-storm in Iraq.
The Bush administration then shifted its Iran-nuke-stopping energy to the United Nations, a policy Obama has accelerated. Obama has played nice with the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime for the past year. Critics have portrayed it as a weakness, but in fact, it's a cunning move that has further isolated Iran within the international community. Showing that we played nice when Iran did not increases the odds of persuading Russia and China to sign-on to the U.N. Security Council resolution imposing stricter economic sanctions on Iran.
That's not to say it's a slam-dunk. On the contrary, if you look at the nuclear standoff from China's or Russia's perspective, you can clearly see why they wouldn't mind so much if Iran had a nuke. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, the United States' ability to use its military might with impunity in the Middle East will be somewhat restricted.
Obama knows this, of course, so he's setting up a good cop/bad cop routine with Israel to lure China to our side. He's basically saying, "Hey, China, if you don't back us on Iranian sanctions, Israel's gonna bomb Iran. Oil prices will go through the roof and your energy-thirsty economy will be hit."
That's not gonna work with Russia – an oil and gas exporter that would love an energy price spike. To lure Russia, we're willing to scrap our plans for an anti-ballistic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia prizes its ability to scare the shit out of Europe.
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