WASHINGTON — In announcing the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran, President Obama stressed not once but twice Iran’s increasing "isolation" from the world. This claim is not surprising considering that after 16 months of an "extended hand" policy, in response to which Iran actually accelerated its nuclear program — more centrifuges, more enrichment sites, higher enrichment levels — Iranian "isolation" is about the only achievement to which the administration can even plausibly lay claim.
"Isolation" may have failed to deflect Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but it does enjoy incessant repetition by the administration. For example, in his State of the Union address, President Obama declared that "the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated." Two months later, Vice President Biden asserted that "since our administration has come to power, I would point out that Iran is more isolated — internally, externally — has fewer friends in the world." At the signing of the START treaty in April, Obama declared that "those nations that refuse to meet their obligations (to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, i.e., Iran) will be isolated."
Really? On Tuesday, one day before the president touted passage of a surpassingly weak U.N. resolution and declared Iran yet more isolated, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran gathered at a security summit in Istanbul "in a display of regional power that appeared to be calculated to test the United States," as The New York Times put it. I would add: And calculated to demonstrate the hollowness of U.S. claims of Iranian isolation, to flaunt Iran’s growing ties with Russia and quasi-alliance with Turkey, a NATO member no less.
Apart from the fact that isolation is hardly an end in itself and is pointless if, regardless, Iran rushes headlong to become a nuclear power, the very claim of Iran’s increasing isolation is increasingly implausible. Just last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted an ostentatious love fest in Tehran with the leaders of Turkey and Brazil. The three raised hands together and announced a uranium transfer deal that was designed to torpedo U.S. attempts to impose U.N. sanctions.
Six weeks ago, Iran was elected to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, a grotesque choice that mocked Obama’s attempt to isolate and delegitimize Iran in the very international institutions he treasures.
Increasing isolation? In the last year alone, Ahmadinejad has been welcomed in Kabul, Istanbul, Copenhagen, Caracas, Brasilia, La Paz, Senegal and Gambia. Today, he is in China.
Three Iran sanctions resolutions passed in the Bush years. They were all passed without a single "no" vote. But after 16 months of laboring to produce a mouse, Obama garnered only 12 votes for his sorry sanctions, with Lebanon abstaining and Turkey and Brazil voting no.
From the beginning, the Obama strategy toward Iran and other rogue states had been to offer good will and concessions on the premise that this would lead to one of two outcomes: (a) the other side changes policy, or (b) if they don’t, the world isolates the offending state and rallies around us — now that we have demonstrated last-mile good intentions.
Hence, nearly a year and a half of peace overtures, negotiation, concessions, two New Year’s messages to the Iranian people, a bit of groveling about U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup and a disgraceful silence when the regime’s very stability was threatened by peaceful demonstrators.
Iran’s response? Defiance, contempt and an acceleration of its nuclear program.
And the world’s response? Did it rally behind us? The Russians and Chinese bargained furiously and successfully to hollow out the sanctions resolution. Turkey is openly choosing sides with the region’s "strong horse" — Iran and its clients (Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas) — as it watches the United States flailingly try to placate Syria and appease Iran while it pressures Israel, neglects Lebanon and draws down its power in the region.
To say nothing of Brazil. Et tu, Lula?
This comes after 16 months of assiduously courting these powers with one conciliatory gesture after another: "resetting" relations with Russia, kowtowing to China, lavishing a two-day visit on Turkey highlighted by a speech to the Turkish parliament in Ankara, and elevating Brazil by supplanting the G-8 with the G-20. All this has been read as American weakness, evidence that Obama can be rolled.
The result is succinctly, if understatedly, captured in Wednesday’s Washington Post headline "U.S. alliance against Iran is showing new signs of vulnerability."