Obama's kidding himself about "realignment" in the Middle East

The chain of logic tying this latest conceit together goes something like this: Iran is a critically important country sitting at the nexus of just about every problem in the region; the nuclear deal shows you can do business with Tehran; the Iranian public is more pro-American than those of many of America’s Arab friends; so let’s use the Iran deal to begin to create a new relationship with Iran. After all, it is not healthy for the United States to be so dependent on its traditional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Move over Jerusalem and Riyadh – here come the mullahs.

In a galaxy far far away this kind of thinking might actually translate into something real. But right or wrong, it won’t work here on Planet Earth. And here is why.

U.S. President Barack Obama has sent decidedly mixed messages when it comes to the utility of engaging Iran. Yes, he believes in the power of diplomacy and the value of negotiating. Indeed, he has relentlessly and willfully pursued the agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue — and in the view of his critics, to a fault. At the same time, almost everything he has said, before and after the deal, smacks of limited goals and of a transactional, not a transformational, approach. If he believes — as with Cuba — that he has started a process of engagement, it is one that he believes will pay its dividends only over time. As a self-styled Neibuhrian (find proximate solutions to insoluble problems), Obama has no illusions that Iran will change quickly, or perhaps even at all, as a result of the nuclear deal. And right now, selling the nuclear deal to a skeptical U.S. Congress demands that the president not appear naive about Iran’s human rights violations, its holding of four Americans, and its behavior in the region. In the next 15 months he may well look to test Iran’s readiness to cooperate on regional issues such as Syria and Iraq. But a combination of his own skepticism, the across-the-board opposition to Iran in Congress, and Iran’s own need to remain aloof and detached from any putative American embrace, is likely to preclude any dramatic post-agreement moves toward Tehran.