Barack Obama’s dream of a “world without nuclear weapons” would seem slightly less ludicrous if Iranian scientists weren’t currently building a bomb, or if Obama didn’t seem so willing to watch them succeed.
The president unveiled his dream world on April 5 in Prague, where he proclaimed “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” That particular line had been gestating for decades, ever since Obama had written about disarmament for a college magazine, but other parts of his speech were new. At 4:30 that morning, North Korea had fired a ballistic missile over the island of Japan, and Obama, apparently still half-asleep, had resolved to respond with four-word sentences and an appeal to the United Nations.
“Rules must be binding,” Obama said. “Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. This world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons.”
Later that evening, after lengthy debate, the Security Council finally decided that it still had to determine whether North Korea’s actions had violated any U.N. resolutions. Then, on May 25, North Korea exploded its first nuclear bomb.
With these developments threatening to spark a nuclear-arms race in the Far East, Obama took refuge back in his dream world. On June 4, speaking at the University of Cairo, Obama received a warm round of applause when he repeated “America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons.”
It’s possible that, in front of this Arab audience, Obama’s sunny rhetoric could have served a purpose. By suggesting that America should abandon its nuclear program, Obama managed to avoid sounding like a condescending imperialist when he said that Iran should do the same. Maybe the United States could have leveraged Obama’s formulation to impose sanctions on Iran without offending anti-Western sensibilities in the region.
But Obama never tried to convert the political energies generated in Cairo into any kind of action. He never asked Congress to pass sanctions, and by early July, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saw the “window … closing” on the opportunity to stop Iran from completing its weapon.
“Iran is very focused on developing this capability,” Mullen said. “The clock is ticking and that’s why I’m as concerned as I am.”
For their part, Israeli officials are concluding that Obama, despite recurring statements to the contrary, has come to accept the idea of a nuclear Iran. Toward the end of July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned the possibility of neutralizing a new Iranian arsenal with an American “defense umbrella” stretched across the Middle East. In Israel’s analysis, that represents the dark underside of Obama’s foreign policy. Nuclear proliferation might be “unacceptable,” but that doesn’t mean his administration isn’t prepared to watch it happen.
The president’s approach is raising eyebrows in Congress, even among the Democrats. Obama has said that he wants to give Iran until the end of the year to respond to his overtures, but on July 21, the Senate unanimously adopted a resolution urging the administration to impose sanctions by the end of September.
On July 22, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee talked about introducing the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, a bill which would target companies that sell gas to the regime. “If engagement doesn’t work,” Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said, “then I am prepared to mark up the bill in committee early this fall.” A majority of both houses have already agreed to be co-sponsors.
Time works differently in the world of dreams, but Obama insists we’re not going to “just wait indefinitely … and wake up one day” to discover that Iran has developed a weapon. Dreamers everywhere should hope he’s right. Universal disarmament will prove tricky enough without bombs in the hands of the mullahs.
Cole, of Colorado Springs, is a writer, translator and political organizer. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.