Before National Security Advisor Susan Rice took the stage at AIPAC on Monday night, the crowd was informed that it is unacceptable for them to boo or jeer at their invited guests. The honorable members of the audience at AIPAC graciously refrained from engaging in that kind of rudeness. Instead, the form of protest that this audience adopted was perhaps more painful than if they had simply hissed Rice off the stage.
“We cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal,” Rice began. “I know that some of you will be urging Congress to insist that Iran forego its domestic enrichment capacity…”
At this, the audience erupted in applause. The applause grew and grew, and eventually developed into a standing ovation. Meanwhile, Rice stood with lips pursed in a display of dissatisfaction while her audience celebrated policies she insisted were untenable.
When the applause finally died down, Rice continued. “As desirable as that would be, it is neither realistic nor achievable,” she said. “Even our closest international partners in the P5+1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy. If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us and undermine the very sanctions we have imposed so effectively together.”
“I know some would argue that we should just impose sanctions and walk away,” Rice continued, “but let’s remember…”
Again, raucous applause erupted from the audience. Most AIPAC attendees did not seem all that interested in hearing what Rice wanted them to remember.
What was most disheartening in Rice’s speech was how evident it became that a deal, any deal, is the administration’s highest priority.
She insisted that a deal which would prevent all domestic enrichment in Iran would lose the support of America’s allies, as though the United States has no leverage over Western Europe to create incentives to prevent the violation of sanctions. What’s more, she makes this claim as though institutions in nations that are supposedly united in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb are not already violating the sanctions. What she is threatening AIPAC attendees with is the status quo. That’s not especially convincing.
In a moment of unguarded truth, Rice did concede that “sanctions, unfortunately, have never stopped Iran from advancing its program.” That is a condemnation of the Obama administration’s entire approach to negotiations with Iran. Obama entered office in 2009 with a plan to engage in direct negotiations with officials in Tehran, corresponded directly with the Mullahs, and ignored the Green Movement; all in pursuit of rapprochement with the Islamic Republic. When all this failed, the Obama administration embarked on a campaign of sanctions that were designed to prevent nuclearization.
But those sanctions were not enough to alter Iranian behavior, and the White House has since been lobbying Congress – even Democratic members – to avoid imposing new sanctions on Iran that might jeopardize a nuclear accord.
Strong sanctions are not the only policy that would impose pressure on Tehran that the White House supported briefly only to summarily abandon.
“The fall of the Assad regime would substantially impact Iran’s strategic position in the world and the region” Deputy White House National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told Reuters in 2012. “The combination of those sanctions and the demise of the Assad regime is a level of pressure that the Iranian government has never been under before.”
The White House never pursued regime change in Damascus, and the consequences of that inaction are reverberating across the region from Ankara to Sanaa, from Basra to Benghazi. The administration never applied maximum pressure to Iran, and it now cynically insists that maximum pressure has failed.
Today, America will hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebut Rice’s argument. It promises to be an illuminating speech.
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