The Corner

Happy October Surprise: Iran Endorses Obama

It’s from Iran again, an October move that could throw the election, and this time it’s for real. Iran is near to agreeing to hold direct nuclear talks with the U.S. It throws a big bone to Obama, on the eve of his final foreign-policy debate with Romney.

Plainly, it does not want to face a Romney presidency.

It’s not something dreamed up after the fact, as in the 1980s “October Surprise.” This time around, the story comes from the parties that stand to benefit from it, and it’s out there in real time — indeed, with exquisite campaign timing.

Administration officials anonymously leaked it just in the nick of time to affect the final debate. They couldn’t afford to wait for Iran to complete the agreement on talking with us.

The old “October Surprise” was a conspiracy theory meant to delegitimize an election in which the impermissible happened: A conservative Republican won. That Republican was so dangerous that the mass media subjected him to almost endless demonization. He was an ignorant, low-grade, B-movie actor, itching to start a nuclear war and bring on the Apocalypse. He was, of course, Ronald Reagan.

Today’s October Surprise does not mean that Iran is agreeing to any substantive results. It is agreeing (possibly) only to play along with a long-standing suggestion for two-party talks. The talks would take months to play out before we’d learn whether Iran has any good faith about reaching a substantive agreement through such discussion. Read that to mean: It will be months before we learn, in all probability, that the talks were only another stalling tactic, a maneuver to buy time for further developing Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Meanwhile, news of impending talks creates an ambiguity that could blunt the force of one of Romney’s arguments in the foreign-policy debate — the argument that Obama’s policy of outreach to Iran has failed and merely given Iran time to make matters worse. And damaging Romney’s foreign-policy credibility is the one verifiable purpose of this move.

Iran is giving its vote to Obama in the election.

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