National Security & Defense

The Blessed Peace-Fakers

(Pool Image/Getty)
What Obama is pursuing in Iran and Cuba isn’t peace.

Republicans don’t talk about peace as much as they used to, or as much as they should. President Dwight Eisenhower, whose unflashy élan masked the difficulty and danger of the serial crises he managed, put “waging peace” at the center of his agenda, even as circumstances obliged him to wage war. President Reagan famously described his agenda as “peace through strength,” a formulation that goes back at least as far as Hadrian. Since then, Republicans have been relatively good on the “strength” part — they have rarely encountered a line item on the military budget that did not enrapture them — but, with the notable exception of Senator Rand Paul, the “peace” side of the equation is something of a stepchild for the Right.

Democratic presidents have more enthusiastically embraced the role of “peacemaker,” and by “role” I mean just that: Democratic peacemaking has amounted to very little more than political theater. From Carter to Clinton to Obama, the Democrats have not been peace-makers but peace-fakers.

The list of countries designated by the United States as state sponsors of terrorism is a pretty exclusive club, a veritable Legion of Doom populated by the likes of North Korea and Syria. The Obama administration has, for reasons that seem to be mainly political, shown extraordinary solicitude toward two countries that were on the State Department’s list when he became president: Cuba and Iran. Cuba has been removed from the list — “Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission” was the State Department’s bloodless explanation — and John Kerry has been dispatched to Havana to raise the flag over a reopened U.S. embassy there. Cuba hasn’t lost its taste for terrorism — the Castro regime maintains ties with FARC terrorists in Colombia and ETA terrorists in Spain, among others — but its enthusiasm for such patronage has outlived most of its clients.

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The same cannot be said of the much more consequential case of Iran, the rulers of which have had their long fingers in practically every terrorist pie from Iraq to Syria to Yemen, and quite likely Georgia, Thailand, and India as well. Iran’s rulers have reaffirmed their commitment to financing and assisting jihadist violence around the world. In the face of that, the Obama administration negotiated a deal with Tehran that will 1.) almost certainly permit the Iranian regime to build a nuclear weapon and 2) release impounded Iranian funds that all knowledgeable parties, including those who support the deal, concede will be used in some part to finance additional terrorist adventuring wherever the investment seems worth it to the ayatollahs. Iran’s “state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remains undiminished,” the State Department reports.

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Because Barack Obama is the prince of false choices, his enablers insist that the choice is between this deal — not any deal, but this deal — and war. That is bunkum, as even the Obama administration admitted the day before yesterday when it insisted that it would walk away from negotiations unless it could get a good deal. This accord isn’t a good one, for reasons that the editors of National Review have enumerated. Senator Charles Schumer, not normally a man to be persuaded by arguments advanced in these pages, has reached roughly the same conclusion.

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If the alternative really were war, then the president would have a point. But the alternative isn’t war at all: It is, rather, continuing to let the crippling sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran continue doing what it is they were designed to do. Sometimes sanctions work, and sometimes they do not. The sanctions did not topple the Iranian regime, nor were they intended to; rather, they restricted its sphere of financial operations, and thus its ability to support terrorism around the world. The effectiveness of those sanctions has been attested to by, among others, Barack Obama himself. But the sanctions are unpopular among the Europeans, who wish to do business with Iran and whose good graces President Obama values more highly than he should. Add to that the depth of the president’s desire to one-up Bill Clinton’s Thursday afternoon of faux statesmanship with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, and a grand accord was all but certain. The sanctions stand in the way of Obama’s ambition to be a global figure rather than a merely American one, and so they must go, unless Congress puts its foot down.

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If anything, the United States should be exploring ways in which to more ruthlessly weaponize its economic standing in the world. The United States produces 22 percent of the human race’s economic output; as Senator Marco Rubio has emphasized in his defense of the Iran sanctions, more than half of international capital flows move through the American financial system. Sanctions are no substitute for an army and a navy, but when a country enjoys a strategic advantage comparable to the American economic edge, it owes it to itself to fight first from the high ground.

#related#American leadership is necessary in this world. As Carly Fiorina and others have persuasively argued, an America-sized vacuum in world affairs draws out monsters. That leadership need not always be rifles-first, nor is it, as the reasonable efficacy of the Iranian sanctions shows. What invites disaster — and the disaster of war — is wishful thinking, including the wishful thinking that the terrorist regimes in Havana and Tehran can be reformed by gentle talk and good wishes. And those of us who put peace high on our agendas must begin with a frank acknowledgment that whatever it is that Iran and Cuba are engaged in, it isn’t “waging peace.”

The Obama administration is opening the door to a nuclear conflict in the Middle East, and perhaps beyond. The Iran deal is not a prelude to peace, but a prelude to war. To imagine that Tehran’s posture toward its neighbors and the world constitutes peace or that it is oriented toward peace is an error that we cannot afford to make.


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