Making Sense Of Jennifer Rubin’s Iran “Engagement” Rhetoric

March 16, 2012 11:10 am ET — Walid Zafar

In what seems like her thousandth post attacking President Obama's policy toward Iran, Romney surrogate and Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin illustrates — yet again — her ignorance of the nuclear standoff with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Rubin, like so many other misinformed commentators on the president's foreign policy, relies on the claim — frequently made by Romney and other GOP contenders — that "the administration wasted almost two years on 'engagement.'"

Unfortunately, the facts don't back up Rubin's claim. Aside from the late-2009 effort at trying to get Iran to export its enriched uranium to a regional ally, there has been little momentum to engage the Iranian government at all, let alone offer Iran a face-saving path out of the impasse.

As one government official told Trita Parsi, the administration's diplomatic outreach amounted to "a single roll of the dice," meaning that the we tried diplomacy, didn't get the result we were hoping for, and decided to pursue sanctions instead. When Brazil and Turkey were able to secure a deal with Iran that resembled the deal the U.S. was trying to make, the administration rebuffed Ankara and Brasilia and went ahead with stinging U.N. sanctions and, later, unilateral sanctions. (Parsi's new book, titled A Single Roll of the Dice, tracks the Obama administration's efforts at diplomacy with Iran.)

Rubin complains that Obama's engagement, which again, hasn't occurred in any serious and sustained way post-2009, allowed the Iranians to continue their nuclear program unabated. She believes what he should have done from the get-go was implement strong and crippling sanctions.

But she seems more interested in bashing the president than in making a coherent argument one way or another. Rubin relies on Josh Block, a former spokesman for AIPAC, and John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador under the Bush administration, to buttress what she believes is a really good argument against the president's strategy. Unfortunately, her two sources contradict each other on the effectiveness of sanctions.

Block says that, "if people in Europe and elsewhere want to avoid kinetic action," they should "put their money where their mouth is." In other words, we need more, tougher, tighter sanctions on the Iranians. To Block, the fact that sanctions have yet to yield results is evidence that more are needed immediately.

Bolton, who believes the president "just doesn't care about national security issues," and advocates for a destabilizing Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, tells Rubin that "focusing on sanctions simply provides the comforting illusion of stopping or slowing Iran's nuclear-weapons program, without actually changing the end result." For Bolton, sanctions will not work and are of no use. Fire up the engines and let the bombs drop.

Reality, of course, is far more complex.

The Obama administration's diplomatic outreach with everyone but Iran has isolated the regime in Tehran, and has been far more effective at creating an international consensus against the Iranian government than the Bush administration. However, sanctions have not produced the outcome of pressuring the Iranians to end their program because, as Iran expert Valy Nasr reminds us, "Iran will not drop its nuclear ambitions unless it feels secure in the region." So yes, sanctions have isolated Iran, but that same isolation is precisely why the Iranians feel they need a powerful deterrent.

The last paragraph of her post gives us tremendous insight into the sort of information Rubin chooses to ignore about a subject that she insists is more important than anything else. She writes:

In any event, the president — having dismissed a robust policy of regime change, repeatedly talked down the prospect of military action, tolerated Iran's killing of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, taken no action in response to Iran's attempted assassination of a Saudi diplomat on U.S. soil and signaled by withdrawal from Iraq and a rush to the exits in Afghanistan our willingness to cede ground to our foes — now faces an Iranian regime that is emboldened and on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. He will soon be confronted with the choice: military action (by Israel or the United States) or acceptance of Iran as a nuclear power, something he said he would never do. It's a Hobson's choice, largely of his own making due to his unserious and delusional foreign policy.

Rubin ignore some very important facts:

1) Current and former military leaders have warned that a strike on Iran would jeopardize our interests throughout the Middle East, most importantly American military personnel;

2) Even hawks like Max Boot admit that military strikes would at best delay the nuclear program by a few years;

3) The Bush administration ignored a serious Iranian proposal to negotiate back in 2003;

4) There is widespread agreement that Iran has not yet made the decision to build a nuclear weapon;

5) Sanctions have thus far hurt ordinary Iranian people while enriching the government by raising global oil prices;

6) And the Iraq war — which conservatives like Romney, Rubin, and Bolton all supported — increased Iran's influence in Iraq.

That's just a start. But don't tell Rubin. She has a presidential campaign to win.