Obama’s folly in Iran needs a page from Reagan’s playbook

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are negotiating an agreement with Iran that will accelerate a nuclear arms race in a part of the world that has begun a 30-year, fight to the finish, religious war.  It is a prescription for disaster.

The administration won’t portray it that way, of course.  They will say they have succeeded in slowing down Iran’s program.  They will offer the usual Obama straw man argument -- it’s a choice between this deal and war with Iran.  And nobody wants another war in the Middle East.

Yet some neo-Conservatives have called for just that:  they say the only way to stop Iran’s bomb is to bomb Iran.  But these are the same folks who said the Iraq war would be short, sweet and cheap.

They’re both wrong.  The choice is not between capitulation and war.  Foreign policy is what’s conducted between these two extremes.  Our policy shouldn’t be either let Iran get the bomb or bomb Iran.  We should do something different, in the middle.  We should do what Ronald Reagan did with the Soviet Union. He didn’t accept Soviet aggression, but he didn’t want to go to war with them either. Reagan maneuvered events so the people of the Soviet Union demanded regime change.

Our policy toward Iran should not be Obama-style capitulation, or Bush-style war, but Reagan-style regime change, where we push their economy to the brink and Iranian people rise up and demand change.

Our policy toward Iran should not be Obama-style capitulation, or Bush-style war, but Reagan-style regime change.

We have enormous leverage to bring against Iran, if we chose to.  We could push for a better deal by imposing punitive sanctions. We could freeze them out of the world banking system.  We could tighten the economic noose around Iran’s neck. We could encourage the pro-American, pro-democracy movement in Iran to challenge the mullahs.  We could tear down Iran’s cyberwall, so their young and literate population can see what the rest of the world is like and launch a social media driven revolution of their own. More than 70 percent of Iranians are under the age of 30.  How long will they tolerate being ruled by a handful of 80-year-old mullahs who have pushed their economy into freefall?  The Iranian people took to the streets in 2009 to demand government change, but President Obama turned his back on them.  Could we encourage them this time?

Our policy toward Iran should not be Obama-style capitulation, or Bush-style war, but Reagan-style regime change.

Two years ago the administration set out to get a deal that would have been a good one: We lift sanctions and welcome Iran into the world economy and Iran dismantles its nuclear weapons program. They get to keep their nuclear energy program, just not their nuclear weapons program.  A Middle East nuclear arms race never starts.

Right now the administration claims it is “negotiating” the final strokes of an agreement, but Iran is holding out for even more concessions. Secretary Kerry shouldn’t just walk away from these negotiations, he should run away.

At this point, the final details aren’t that important -- the U.S. has already conceded that Iran doesn’t have to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, it just has to unplug part of it -- for a while -- with inadequate inspection . . . and no penalties if they plug it back in.

It’s like resting world peace on a pinky-swear while Iran has its fingers crossed behind its back. Obama and Kerry got played, fittingly, on April Fool’s Day.

President Obama may be convinced his deal with Iran will stop their nuclear weapons program, but no one else does, especially not Iran’s neighbors.  They see this as the United States leaving the region and leaving an economically, politically and militarily powerful nuclear Iran in charge.  Many have already announced they will acquire their own nuclear weapons.  Some think Iran’s archenemy, Saudi Arabia, already has a few nukes on order from Pakistan.  After that, it’s a nuclear arms race with the world’s most dangerous weapons in the hands of fanatics who shouldn’t even be allowed to play with matches.

So in a region now wracked by regional civil war between Iranian Shiites and Arab Sunnis, if Iran gets nukes, the Arab states get nukes.  From there it is a small step to envision weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of radical Islamic extremists.  And that’s the ultimate nightmare scenario:  nuclear weapons in the hands of extremists who would be willing to die as long as they can also kill their enemies.

From the dawn of the atomic age, the nightmare scenario has been nuclear weapons in the hands of people who would be eager to use them.  The way we kept superpower peace throughout the atomic age was through deterrence. There were never effective defenses against nuclear weapons, but the United States and USSR had survivable nuclear weapons they would use in retaliation.  Each side knew if they launched a nuclear attack, they were guaranteed a nuclear attack in return.  It was called Mutually Assured Destruction, or M.A.D., and it was a mutual suicide pact.  It was an uneasy peace, but it kept the peace.

But we’ve entered a new era.  Deterrence doesn’t work on suicide bombers or radical jihadists eager to usher in the end of days.  If the administration is willing to let Iran get nuclear weapons, then at least try to change the Iranian regime from one chanting “Death to America” and exporting terrorism throughout the world, to one willing to live at peace with its neighbors.

Or is the President so eager for a foreign policy success to finish out his time in office that he’s willing to dismiss this as mere “rhetoric,”  and succumb to a form of willful blindness? If so,  Obama may get his Tehran summit, and the liberal media will cheer him along, but not for long.  President Obama’s great legacy won’t be Nixon to China, but Neville Chamberlain at Munich.