Cliff May

No one likes to be the skunk at the picnic but sometimes there’s no alternative: You just have to spray. That’s how I feel after reading a column by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, a generally smart and sophisticated member of the foreign-policy elite. Consider this excerpt:

President Obama is approaching one of those moments when a big turn in foreign policy is possible. . . . There’s no doubt that this is a time of opportunity.

The evidence for this optimism? Obama has “talked directly” with Hassan Rouhani “about quickly negotiating a deal to limit the Iranian nuclear program.” Well, yes, but in that brief telephonic conversation the new Iranian president offered not a single concession. Maybe he will, but, until and unless he does, how is it possible to conclude that everything is hunky-dory and, what’s more, about to get better? Ignatius adds:

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry must communicate that the United States is reaching an inflection point: In the world that’s ahead, Iran must temper its revolutionary dreams of 1979, just as Saudi Arabia must stop hyperventilating about the “Shiite crescent.”

Imagine you’re Rouhani or his boss, Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Surely you’d wonder: “This ‘inflection point’ that Obama is to communicate — what makes Mr. Ignatius think it is coming, and how will the United States be different after it has been reached? And in the ‘world that’s ahead’ why must we Iranians temper our revolutionary dreams? Why should we veer from the road paved by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of our Islamic Revolution and founder of our Islamic Republic?”

As for the Saudis, they are unlikely to be convinced that their concerns verge on the hysterical. They see abundant evidence that Iran (Persian- and Shiite-ruled) is determined to become the nuclear-armed hegemon of the Middle East, to the detriment — and possibly the destruction — of its neighbors (most of them Arab- and Sunni-ruled — and, of course, one that is Jewish).

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.