Thanks to a preoccupation with the Islamic State, or ISIS, and a string of diplomatic concessions from the Obama administration, Iran is closer than ever to producing nuclear weapons and the United States and our allies have little leverage remaining to demand it change course.
That’s assessment of former Clinton administration official Lawrence J. Haas, who served as spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget and as communications director for then-Vice President Al Gore. He is now a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. For the Oct. 7 edition of U.S. News & World Report, Haas authored a column entitled, “Giving Iran the Store.”
In a subsequent interview, Haas said there are many foreign policy headaches for the Obama administration in the Middle East and beyond, but he said actions over the past six years, and especially the past several months, suggest preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is far too low on the White House list of international priorities.
“The prospect of a radical regime in Tehran with nuclear weapons remains the No. 1 nightmare scenario for the United States, not just in the region but perhaps around the world,” Haas said. “We are not giving it nearly enough attention as we were two years ago or four years ago and certainly not nearly as much as we should be today.
“We should not be distracted. This remains a top priority and we’re not giving it the attention it deserves,” he said.
He said the weakness is prompted in part for the desire to proclaim some good news from the Middle East.
“[Obama] and Secretary of State John Kerry have become ever more desperate for a victory out of that region,” Haas said. “The victory they would really like these days is a negotiated agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. That has led to some of the very bizarre and awkward negotiating tactics that they’ve been using of late.”
According to Haas, after giving ground on the enrichment question, the Obama administration concessions only snowballed from there.
“In the course of recent months, the amount we would allow them to enrich has gotten ever larger,” he said. “The more that Iran has enriched fuel at a certain level, the faster it can convert that fuel to uranium that can be used in a nuclear weapon.”
Haas added, “The more centrifuges we allow to be in place, the more we allow them to enrich at higher quantities, the closer they can be to a nuclear weapon on their own timetable and that’s very dangerous.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Lawrence J. Haas:
The real head-scratcher for Haas is why this parade of concessions happened when the U.S. had the stronger hand just a year ago as a result of effective U.S. an international sanctions.
“The Iranian economy was really flat on its back,” he said. “I would argue that, had we squeezed a little bit harder, that economy could have been close to collapse. Had the economy collapsed, there could very well have been an uprising, a revolt to overturn that regime. I’m not predicting it definitely would have happened but at least it was an open possibility. So we had tremendous leverage a year ago.”
But at the moment Iran was feeling the economic pinch, Haas said the U.S. inexplicably let it off the hook.
“Through some of the economic relief we’ve given them, their economy has rebounded to a tremendous extent,” he said. “While the sanctions that are still in place are still hurting them to some extent, they’re no longer in dire straits. Their economy is growing again. Their inflation is way down. Their currency is way up. Their stock market is way up.
“So as their economy continues to improve, we have less and less leverage,” he said.
“Frankly, what is it that we’re hanging over their heads anymore?” Haas asked. “With an improving economy, we’re not really in a position to say to them, ‘OK, you desperately need us to ease up on the sanctions.’ They not longer desperately need us to ease up on the sanctions.”
Haas said it will be tough, but there are ways to put the heat back on. He suggests the U.S. allow the temporary agreement to expire in November and then reapply the crippling sanctions to get diplomatic momentum headed in the right direction again.
But he doesn’t expect Obama to do anything like that.
“I don’t think this administration will be willing to do that, but I think that if we ever want to regain the leverage that we once had, we to once again pursue a very stringent sanctions policy, backed up by the legitimate threat of force against their nuclear sites,” he explained. “Otherwise, they have nothing to fear from us, and they’re not going to cut a deal and eventually Iran will have nuclear weapons.”
Haas, a longtime Democrat, says Obama entered the presidency with the wrong attitude toward the Middle East.
“President Obama came to office clearly believing that a reduced U.S. footprint in the region and elsewhere around the world would lead to a more collaborative, more collegial, more peaceful world. Clearly, just the opposite has been true,” Haas said.
“What he has learned is that when America does not lead, the world becomes a messier, more dangerous place. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and we’re dealing with a lot of stuff in the region that’s very messy. It is not entirely his fault, but it is partly his fault that that region has become messier.”