Rather than reassure the Iranians with a wink and a nod that we’re ready to do business, President Obama should be building an international coalition to isolate a recalcitrant Iran as thoroughly as the the West once isolated apartheid-era South Africa. Bush, to the chagrin of the neocons, could never pull this off [bold mine-DL]. But Obama can. ~Reihan Salam
I don’t mean to beat this one column into the ground, but there are a lot of problems with it. It would help Reihan’s argument a lot if neoconservatives had actually been chagrined by Bush’s inability to mobilize international support for his policies, but when they weren’t elaborating on the grand possibilities of the “unipolar moment” they were for the most part busily mocking the impulse to work through multilateral institutions. At the same time, they wanted credit for enforcing U.N. resolutions. They were a little too preoccupied celebrating the glories of “New Europe” and the “coalition of the willing” and pretending that cajoling the governments of small, weak countries into aligning with us on Iraq represented diplomatic triumphs on par with those of Bush’s father. When Turkey refused to permit our forces to launch part of the invasion from their territory, I don’t recall any neoconservatives complaining that Bush was bungling the diplomacy. Instead, they railed against Turkish anti-Americanism, which they found as inexplicable as it was offensive to them.
Neocons were not chagrined by Bush’s failure to mobilize international support behind the Iraq war. They were instead furious at the Russians, French and Germans for daring to oppose the war, and ultimately didn’t care whether there was international support because they believed that the war served the “greater international good,” at least as they saw it through the lens of shoring up and advancing U.S. hegemony. Neoconservatives will go through international institutions if necessary, but take for granted that it is our government that is ultimately responsible for what they understand to be global governance or, put another way, imperial management. They were not chagrined by Bush’s failure to bring greater international pressure on Iran, but rather they were embarrassed by his willingness in his second term to contemplate diplomatic approaches with Tehran, which they have always believed to be futile. To the extent that Bush was engaged in coordinating international support in his second term on Israel-Palestine, that didn’t just embarrass them, but positively outraged them.
When Obama wanted to exercise restraint and say little, many neocons demanded that he say more and say it more forcefully. Once he does that, they will demand sanctions. Once he proposes sanctions, they will demand covert action to topple the regime. Should he actually authorize covert action, they will call for bombings. This is how it works: if Obama adopts anything resembling a hawkish approach, they will praise the hawkishness but always demand escalation. Short of war with Iran, which is where the isolationist policy Reihan is proposing ultimately leads, I doubt there is anything Obama could do that would be deemed sufficient by most neoconservatives.