The Corner

The Futility of Obama’s Letter Writing Campaign to Iran’s Regime

President Obama has penned at least four letters to Iran’s fanatically anti-American Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Obama’s goal is to melt away Khamenei’s severe distrust of the United States. “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us,” declared Obama at the start of his presidency in 2009.

Predictably, Iran has not wavered from its anti-Western position. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and the point person for Khamenei’s foreign policy, said “no” on Monday to a rapprochement with America.

It is worth recalling the effect of former President Jimmy Carter’s outreach to then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini during Iran’s seizure of American embassy personnel in 1979. The world’s greatest living Middle East historian Bernard Lewis wrote: 

“President Jimmy Carter’s letter appealing to Khomeini as one believer to another, the American rejection of the Shah, and the unwilligness to help a former friend, all helped to convince people in Iran, and elsewhere in the Middle East, that it was safer and more profitable to be an enemy rather than a friend of the United States.”

The ideological alignment of Carter and Obama says much about a flawed Iran policy that encourages hostage-taking of Americans and displays impotence during the talks to end Khomeini’s nuclear-weapons program.

Lewis correctly argued that Carter’s deference to Khomeini played a role in extending the captivity of American hostages in Tehran. Former president Ronald Regan’s muscular foreign policy is widely credited with Iran’s release of the hostages in 1981.

Fast forward to 2014.There are at least four American hostages held in Iran’s vast prison system. The Islamic Republic has showed no appetite for releasing Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, Pastor Saeed Abedini and Marine Amir Hekmati.

What might prompt a change in Iran’s  behavior is a potent mix of a credible military threat with a new round of economic sanctions. Ralph Peters, a strategic analyst for Fox News and a former Military Intelligence officer, noted in his analysis on Saudi Arabia’s oil war on its chief enemy Iran:

“With the barrel price at barely 40 percent of Iran’s requirement, the economy’s going to hemorrhage. Iran’s leaders will be under far greater pressure to compromise on the nuclear weapons — unless we keep easing sanctions for nothing in return. This is the last chance for negotiations to bring results.”

Put simply, a letter-writing campaign is not a substitute for new sanctions to strangle Iran’s wobbly economy.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

Most Popular

Culture

White Cats and Black Swans

Making a film of Cats is a bold endeavor — it is a musical with no real plot, based on T. S. Eliot’s idea of child-appropriate poems, and old Tom was a strange cat indeed. Casting Idris Elba as the criminal cat Macavity seems almost inevitable — he has always made a great gangster — but I think there was ... Read More
World

Who Is Boris Johnson?

By next week at this time, Boris Johnson will be prime minister of the United Kingdom. Not since Margaret Thatcher has such an outsized personality resided in Number 10 Downing Street. Not since Winston Churchill has such a wit presided over Her Majesty’s Government. Wit is actually the chief reason for ... Read More
Energy & Environment

Ohio Bans ‘Nature Rights’

Finally! After voters in Toledo granted "rights" to Lake Erie -- in a special election, it should be noted, with minuscule turnout -- Ohio has outlawed the enforcement of "nature rights" in a budget bill signed by the governor. From the legislation: Sec. 2305.011...[Definitions omitted] (B) Nature or any ... Read More
Health Care

The Puzzling Problem of Vaping

San Francisco -- A 29-story office building at 123 Mission Street illustrates the policy puzzles that fester because of these facts: For centuries, tobacco has been a widely used, legal consumer good that does serious and often lethal harm when used as it is intended to be used. And its harmfulness has been a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Ten Questions for the ‘Squad’

Democratic infighting reached a fever pitch last week with bickering and personal attacks between members of the “Squad” and other House Democrats. During that period, Squad members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley mostly avoided doing interviews. However, that all ... Read More