Jacob Heilbrunn

Is Obama Lying About Iran?

The showdown looms. Who will blink first? The two sides have been locked in a seemingly intractable posture. One is marked by ideological fervor, the desire to topple the nefarious capitalist system of the West. The other is horrified but not always sure how to react. No, I am not referring to Iran and the United States, but the demonstrators in Zuccotti square in New York and San Diego versus local authorities. Even as President Obama ups the ante against Iran, the real battle seems to remain back in the USA. The demonstrators have even won the respect and approbation of the mullahs, who point to their complaints as further evidence of the decline of the West. No doubt they, and the Chinese, will crow if it requires force to dislodge the motley crew of protesters in order to clean the park, as Brookfield Properties Inc. has announced it plans to do. Obama made some approving noises about the protesters, but when it comes to Iran, he is talking tough. It is fascinating to observe the shape the debate over Tehran is taking. A skeptic corner has quickly formed. On his Foreign Policy blog, Stephen Walt expressed his incredulity at the idea that Iran could be so sloppy and reckless. Paul Pillar, in his National Interest post, suggests that the Obama administration is hyping the threat and going into campaign mode. Caution is warranted. U.S. presidents have a long history of exaggerating foreign threats. Franklin Roosevelt claimed he had a Nazi plan in his possession to take over South America. The shadow of the Iraq War looms large today. Perhaps Obama, whose foreign policy seems to resemble George W. Bush's more and more, may be exaggerating a foreign terrorist plot? Obama, of course, says no. He wants to up sanctions against Iran, perhaps target its central bank. In other words, there is very little he can do. My own take is that, however peculiar this plot may be, it is not enough to simply say that it may not be true because it is too crazy to be a serious attempt at targeting Saudi Arabia and America. The administration will have to present more evidence to make its case. Certainly, Obama further insulates himself on foreign policy as a weakling, which is why it could be construed as an attempt to hype the Iran threat. But it may well be that it is also exactly what the administration says. Fareed Zakaria is suggesting that it attests to a new militance in Iran, which is bad enough. The plot could create the context in which Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are even more predisposed to sanction—and indeed encourage—an Israeli strike on Iran. For now, however, Obama appears much like the protesters decrying capitalism: All he can do is huff and puff.

Image by David Shankbone