They humiliated Carter. They nearly brought down Reagan’s presidency. They perplexed Bush Senior and defied Bush Junior, while beguiling and then betraying President Clinton in between.
Now they have run complete circles around President Obama, as their two-decade-long quest for nuclear weapons bids fair to become a reality.
The Islamic revolutionary regime in Tehran is poised to hand the United States its worst foreign-policy setback since the fall of South Vietnam.
Viewed through the lens of history, it is a remarkable if chilling story. Since that regime came to power in 1979, no single foreign entity has caused more destruction to American interests, kidnapped more Americans, or conducted or directed more deadly terrorist attacks against American targets. Only al-Qaeda has murdered more U.S. citizens in cold blood.
Since 2005, the Islamic Republic of Iran has also been waging a steady proxy war in Iraq, causing by some estimates as much as 20 percent of all U.S. casualties there. And the signs are rapidly growing that it’s trying to do the same in Afghanistan.
Yet despite all this, despite constant political infighting and growing unpopularity at home and in the region, and despite bringing its country to the brink of economic collapse, that regime is on the verge of going nuclear. An imperative foreign-policy goal of no fewer than three presidents — Clinton, Bush, and Obama — will have been lost.
How did this happen?
The usual excuse for Western foreign-policy failures — that the democratic electoral process and changes of government mean policies are constantly being revised and reversed, while dictatorships are able to maintain a steady course until they reach their goal — won’t wash here. The Bush and Obama policies toward Iran, at least since 2005, have been remarkably consistent — and largely an extension of the Clinton policy of carrot and stick. Play ball with us and the international community, successive secretaries of state have told the Iranians, and don’t build any nukes, and we’ll extend the carrots of diplomatic recognition and expanded trade. Don’t play ball, and expect the stick of sanctions — or even possibly military action.