Dick Lugar’s Iran Problem, Part 3: June 2009 – abandoning the students for the negotiation without precondition folly
This is the third and last in a series examining Dick Lugar’s failure on policy towards Iran, which consistently exhibited wishful thinking about appeasing the regime in the hope the Iranians would negotiate in good faith over their missile and nuclear programs, and their export of terrorism:
- Part 1: 1998 – one of only four Senators to oppose Iran Missile Sanctions Act
- Part 2: 2001 – one of only two Senators to oppose Iran-Libya Sanctions Act
The choice never was between war and peace; the alternative was not that the U.S. should attack Iran, but that the U.S. should confront Iran non-militarily.
This dispute was an issue both in the 2008 Democratic primary and general election, with Obama embracing a “negotiation without precondition” policy in a now famous clip in which Obama promised to meet with the Iranians during his first year in office.
Lugar enthusiatically embraced Barack Obama’s foreign policy outlook during the 2008 campaign, including an endorsement of that policy just three weeks before the election. That policy endorsement was of such help to Obama that it earned Lugar the nickname “Obama’s Favorite Republican.
Lugar’s embrace of Obama’s foreign policy on Iran was demonstrated in June 2009, when alleged electoral fraud sent Iranians, particularly students, into the streets and onto the rooftops of major Iranian cities.
The Obama reaction was to ignore the demonstrators, and only after a domestic U.S. outcry over the silence did Obama even make a statement on the protests.
At the same time, the Obama administration threw a lifeline to the Iranian regime by sending a letter making it clear that Obama’s priority was bringing Iran to the negotiating table even as protesters were shot and beaten in the streets, then imprisoned in huge numbers under horrific conditions. Without using the term, Obama adopted a “grand bargain” approach to Iran, in which the future of the Iranian regime would be assured in exchange for negotiations over the nuclear program.
Dick Lugar, once again, stood by Obama.
In mid-June, at the height of the protests and just as the Iranian Supreme Leader staked out a hard line position, Lugar appeared on CNN and argued that we should meet with the regime even as protests were continuing. In almost bizarre terms Lugar spoke of using the crackdown as an opportunity to request that the Iranians allow freedom of the press:
After a week of political protests by Iranians calling into question the legitimacy of the country’s leadership, a leading U.S. Republican said Sunday that the United States should still engage in diplomatic dialogue with the Middle Eastern nation.
“We would sit down because our objective is to eliminate the nuclear program that is in Iran,” Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
But Lugar, ranking Republican on the foreign relations committee, also said he believes Iranian interest in high-level talks with the U.S. is “totally improbable.” …
“We really have to get into the nuclear weapons. We have to get into terrorism of Iran in other areas of the Middle East. Now we have new opportunity in which we might very well say, ‘We want communication with Iran. We want openness of the press. We don’t want to have to use Twitter. We want the press on the ground.'”
Lugar’s support for Obama’s policy earned all the headlines:
- Lugar backs O’s stance on Iran election
- Lugar: Hands Off Iran, For Now
- Lugar disagrees with McCain’s call for the U.S. to ‘act’ against Iran.
The Obama-Lugar policy may have earned headlines, but it never brought Iran to the negotiating table. Instead, Iran gained valuable time to finish mopping up the protesters, executing and raping many.
By the end of June, the Iranians were already mocking our weakness, demanding that Obama apologize to Iran before they would negotiate.
A much ballyhooed September 2009 negotiating round, the prize Obama-Lugar won for abandoning the students, never took place, as the Iranians played negotiating rope-a-dope. By the start of 2010, bringing the Iranians to the negotiating table had turned into farce.
The Obama-Lugar wishful thinking about the Iranians went nowhere, a failure which bought the Iranians years to work on longer range missiles and nuclear development.