02 May 2015

The New York Times: “Iran and the Obama Doctrine”

“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing… people don’t seem to understand,” the president said. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place. … We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

Thomas L. Friedman

To me, this approach comes off as both ignorant and arrogant. To test possibilities implies that you don’t know your opponent well enough to have a constructive dialog. To say Iran cannot fight us implies a position of superiority that shouldn’t be emphasized in negotiations, even if both parties know it’s a fact. Don’t get me wrong, any diplomatic solution to the cold war with Iran is better than escalation of conflict, I just think it should be handled better than ‘We’re America, you cannot fight us, so here!’.

In an interview with Thomas L. Friedman, President Obama says that his policy of engagement in Iran and elsewhere doesn’t mean the United States isn’t ready to defend its interests or that of its allies

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