Like an old trouper trying to find a new audience for his same old show, our president and thespian-in-chief is giving it a game try. Consider the press conference he gave the day after the results of this year's midterm elections were in -- and so many Democratic incumbents were out. The press conference seemed to go on for almost as long as the election had. Toward its merciful end, one member of the press corps was tactless enough to raise the nettlesome topic of Iran, which is about to become the world's next nuclear power. The reply the president gave, and gave, and gave went on for some time. (In this administration, a surfeit of words is used to cover a deficit of meaning.)
To condense the president's answer, he's done everything right, the mullahs are the soul of reason, and stay tuned. That last is the most important. Because unless the suspense is sustained till the last minute, the whole show will flop. The way the president's party just did at the polls.
It's an old script (original title: Peace in Our Time), and any resemblance to reality may be only coincidental, but it's got to be advertised as All New. The script has been blocked out for at least a year now, but the last act must still come as a surprise. Or the audience won't stick around for the Happy Ending, which has been in the works for so long it's getting dusty.
But how keep the yokels interested? Simple: The leading man has to act as if he doesn't know how the show will end. And in Barack Obama's case, it's possible he really doesn't. He's always found his own act utterly convincing -- even if fewer and fewer of the rest of us do these days.
But the show must go on! The scenery has been repainted, the champagne chilled, and the caviar prepared for the cast party. (Fresh from the Caspian Sea, no doubt, and maybe the Black, too, as befits a joint Russo-Persian production.) The whole international cast is already practicing its bows. Soon enough the curtain will go up, and this rollicking farce can have its formal opening. Nobody need know that it masks a real tragedy, as appeasement has a way of doing.
It's going to be a Great Moment in the American theater, the dramatic announcement that at the last minute Iran has agreed to suspend work on its nuclear weapon and give up its dream of having a Bomb all its own. It'll make a happy headline: Signature Achievement in Foreign Policy! And a fitting match for this president's Signature Achievement in domestic policy, aka Obamacare, another work forever in progress. Or maybe regress. One never knows.
The trick is to maintain the air of faux suspense. For example: "Kerry: 'Real gaps' stymie nuclear accord with Iran," said the headline in Sunday morning's paper. Later that same day, the president duly echoed his secretary of state: "There's still a big gap. ... We may not be able to get there." Both seemed to be reading from the same talking points. Oh, the thrilling, cliffhanger suspense of it all! Even if anybody who's followed these "negotiations" must have a pretty good idea by now just how they'll turn out. Given a choice between deterring the fanatical regime in Teheran now or trying to contain it later, our president has again chosen the path of least resistance in foreign policy. As he tends to do. Deterrence, like other hard choices, is so much trouble.
With this administration, procrastination took the place of policy some time ago. Or does anybody really think our fumbling, bumbling leaders are going to out-bargain the mullahs in their own Persian bazaar? If so, I've got a barely used flying carpet you can have cheap.
The "surprise" ending of this play has been in the script all along: Iran will publicly (if only publicly) forsake its plan to join the world's nuclear club, and in turn the West, with the eager support of the Russians and Chinese, will back off its economic sanctions against that country, as it's already begun to do. Just as those sanctions were beginning to pay off. At this point it's all over but the formal signing of another worthless treaty, complete with cheers and applause. Give 'em a happy ending every time. At least for a while. Isn't that how North Korea got its Bomb a couple of decades ago?
Call it The Great Sham, and it must be maintained in tandem with the mullahs' Great Stall, which has won them ever more time to expand Iran's network of nuclear plants from Fordo and Bushehr to Arak and Parchin. ... The road ahead has already been cleared. And it leads right over a nuclear cliff. But what, this president worry? The fix is already in: Washington gets its meaningless treaty, Teheran gets its Bomb, and everybody's happy! What could possibly go wrong?
Well, there is this little country called Israel. It's already taken out a series of budding nuclear plants in its near neighborhood, first in Iraq and then Syria, and now one after the other in Iran, where another "accident" occurred just the other day. All without fanfare, of course. That would be undiplomatic.
But the message from Jerusalem is clear enough: Unlike the Czechs at Munich almost a century ago, the Israelis may not be prepared to go gently into that not so good night. This sacrificial lamb could yet turn out to be a lion.
There's no telling with these people, a stubborn and stiff-necked bunch since the Book of Acts, if not before. And they keep insisting on sticking around. Unlike this administration, they seem to understand what is at stake in this show: their very existence.
Nor do its Arab neighbors seem happy at the prospect of a nuclearized Iran. Once the mullahs get their nuke, its rivals will have to have one, too, if only to keep up. Egyptian dictators, Wahhabi warlords, aspiring strongmen from Rabat to Riyadh, not to mention assorted terrorist gangs and miscellaneous nutcases -- they'll all be racing to join the nuclear club. And they'll all find willing suppliers, from Pakistan to North Korea. Let the games begin.
So what could possibly go wrong? Answer: plenty. Because behind all the drummed-up suspense in Washington, there's more than enough of the real thing to go around.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.