In a recent interview defending the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran, President Obama argued that that his approach to Iran is essentially the same as that which Ronald Reagan took toward the Soviet Union. Mr. Obama said that ” where I completely admire him was his recognition that [an agreement would be worth doing] if you were able to verify an agreement that you would negotiate with the evil empire that was hell-bent on our destruction and was a far greater existential threat to us than Iran will ever be.”
Leaving aside the fact that the verification provisions in the proposed agreement are flawed, and that a nuclear-armed Iran could be at least as serious a threat as was the Soviet Union, the reality is that Mr. Obama’s approach to dealing with an adversary is fundamentally different than that of Mr. Reagan. Most importantly, Mr. Obama believed that he could reach satisfactory agreement by proactive engagement with a militant and aggressive Iran without preconditions or any meaningful changes in its international or domestic policies. Mr. Obama is willing to take a very risky gamble that could jeopardize the security of the United States as well as regional friends.
Mr. Reagan believed that, given Moscow’s avowed hostility to the West and expansionist actions, the Soviet Union must change first before he would negotiating seriously. Mr. Reagan was not willing to risk the security of the United States and its allies on an agreement with an old-style communist leadership with a militant ideology and a record of cheating on arms agreements. Therefore, Mr. Reagan engaged with Moscow only after Moscow began focusing on mounting domestic concerns and in effect abandoned its goal of world domination. (Thus,Mr. Obama’s assertion that Mr. Reagan was willing to negotiate with a Soviet Union “hell-bent on our destruction” is not accurate).
Mr. Obama believes that engagement with Iran as such, along with a nuclear agreement, is the best way to catalyze a process of significant domestic and international change. Mr. Reagan, however, believed that a Soviet Union under outside pressure would be much more likely to change its domestic and international policies and to negotiate agreements that enhanced U.S. security.
Mr. Obama’s approach has been to walk softly and carry a soft stick. He has been seemingly oblivious to the role that military power can play in supporting negotiating objectives, while also presiding over a major reduction in U.S. military capabilities and a precipitous withdrawal from the Middle East. Believing in negotiating from a position of demonstrated strength, Mr. Reagan initiated a historic U.S. military build-up. Mr. Reagan also launched the Strategic Defense Initiative which helped convince Soviet leaders that they could not compete with the United States.
While Mr. Obama’s administration did implement some economic sanctions against Iran, Mr. Obama accepted them reluctantly and only as a result of overwhelming congressional pressure. He then consistently fought to weaken, delay or block enhanced sanctions legislation. In a diametrically opposite approach, exploiting economic vulnerabilities was a key element of Mr. Reagan’s strategy. Mr. Reagan believed that disrupting the Soviet economy would further weaken the Soviet system and cause changes in Soviet domestic and international policies; and which would enhance U.S. negotiating leverage.
Mr. Obama’s negotiating style has been marked by a series of pre-emptive concessions. Throughout the negotiations, Mr. Obama conceded on a variety of issues that were proclaimed to be non-negotiable by the Iranians. Mr. Reagan however refused to concede on key issues; and was willing to walk away from the negotiating table as he did when he refused at Reykjavik to agree to limitations on U.S. strategic defense programs.
Mr. Obama has said he wanted to talk with Tehran to see “where there are potential avenues for progress.” Given his overriding objective of reaching an agreement, Mr. Obama has avoided remarks about repressive domestic policies that might offend Iran’s leaders. In stark contrast, and faced with the old-style Soviet leadership — and unconcerned about hurt feelings — Mr. Reagan at his very first press conference asserted that the Soviets “reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat “
Mr. Obama has at times referred to Mr. Reagan as a transformational leader. By comparing himself to Mr. Reagan Obama presumably hopes to be viewed similarly. Unfortunately, here again the contrast is not favorable to Mr. Obama. Mr. Reagan strengthened America internationally and devised a strategy that ended the long-standing Soviet threat to the United States. Mr. Obama’s polices have weakened America internationally; and the proposed nuclear agreement would enhance Iran’s economic and military capabilities, reinforce its militant leaders position domestically and result in increased Iranian regional influence. Most importantly, Mr. Obama’s policies will fail to prevent Iran from being able to develop a nuclear capability which, when combined with an eventual ICBM capability, could directly threaten the U.S. homeland.
Thus, unfortunately for you and for America, Barack Obama, you are no Ronald Reagan.