President Obama’s dreamy dreams
Vladimir Putin is working on an ambitious legacy, too
Words enough to fill an unabridged dictionary went into the tentative “framework” that President Obama and the Western powers reached with Iran to address Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. All those words could be distilled in John Lennon’s naive refrain: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” While Barack Obama was preoccupied with erecting his “framework,” Vladimir Putin was busy, too, reminding his European neighbors that Mao Zedong’s favorite and not-so-naïve refrain still applies: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
The difference between the two themes is plain and stark: Mr. Obama says Iran has finally unclenched its fist to shake the hand he extended six years ago in his first Inaugural Address. Once the framework leads to a pact in June, he says, the mullahs in Tehran will be prevented from building their bomb for 10 years and this will make the world safer. (In the 11th year, which nobody wants to talk about, maybe not so much.) While its diplomats share the bubbly (seltzer water only, we presume) with Western diplomats, Iran’s army of jihadis work to destabilize the governments of four neighboring countries — Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. “The world is on fire,” says House Speaker John Boehner. A nuclear framework notwithstanding, Iran continues to fan the flames.
The “world on fire” is reminiscent of the Cold War years. Mr. Putin tosses out the “n” word, brandishing his nuclear arsenal to defend his conquest of Crimea. He argues that abuse of ethnic Russians prompted him to invade eastern Ukraine, and there’s a similar threat in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Mr. Putin is not subtle. Neither is history. Hitler employed similar not-so-subtle threats to justify his occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938.
Russia directs similar nuclear threats against NATO neighbors. The Russian ambassador to Denmark warns that Danish warships “will be targets for Russia’s nuclear weapons” if Denmark participates in a NATO plan for a European missile defense radar system, and Russia violates Norwegian air space with increasing frequency and even crosses the English Channel with identifying transponders switched off in stealth fashion, disrupting air traffic. In word and deed, the Russians have not forgotten how to behave with Cold War malevolence.
Mr. Obama has almost two years left to further damage the interests of the nation he swore to protect and defend. He can finish his deal with Iran by June, pocket his legacy, such as it will be, and leave troubles and dilemmas to his successor. He could, of course, pursue his crusade from a new platform to prevent Iran from restarting its nuclear program when such an agreement expires in 10 years. We won’t hold our breath. Beyond “fundamentally transforming” the United States, there’s the rest of the world to save. Mr. Putin, for his part, is establishing a legacy of his own, the restoration of the Soviet empire behind the threat of nuclear might.
The lovers of peace and goodness can rail against nuclear weapons from now ’til doomsday, but before they can dissuade rogues in Moscow and Tehran from evil and establish a peaceable kingdom on Earth, they must deal with the malice that defiles the human heart. Entreaties for brotherhood are nice, but the only effective deterrent is the strength of arms. Peace through flaccid weakness is folly.