July 3, 2010 7:04 PM
Last year, Barack Obama and his crack foreign policy team (Valerie Jarrett? David Axelrod?) came up with a grand strategy for dealing with the Iranians: hot dog diplomacy. Here was the plan: Host Iranian diplomats for Fourth of July barbecues at American embassies across the globe. This good will effort, the theory went, would do wonders for America’s relations with the mullahs, by engaging them rather than standing-up to them.
Hot dog diplomacy was an extension of the effort Obama expressed in his Nowruz video to the Iranian people and its leaders. In that address, he said:
So in this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran’s leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.
The problem is, it was hard for the American people to have any sort of respect for a theocratic, saber-rattling Islamist government. And the aftermath of the fraudulent June 12 election in Iran confirmed everyone’s worst perception of the regime.
Eight days after the elections, on June 20, 2009, Neda Agha-Soltan was brutally murdered as she protested the rigged election. The video of her murder was captured by bystanders and quickly went viral. Here, again, was proof that these weren’t the kind of people you might want to share a barbecue with. Later that same day, Obama still didn’t seem to get it, as he released a wishy-washy statement, saying, "We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost."
The statement failed to clearly state who was murdering whom, failing to clearly acknowledge a moral distinction between the regime and its protesters. The invitations for hot dog diplomacy were still on the table; Obama had not yet abandoned his approach to the mullahs. But as tepid as the Obama administration’s approach to Iran was, the American public was certain of its dislike for the regime.
Only public outcry and further violence by the Iranian regime could sway the stubborn White House. On June 24, 2009, ten days before July 4, the Obama administration officially rescinded invitations to the Iranians. (The Iranians, for their part, were not playing along–not a single one had accepted a barbecue invitation.)
Last Thursday, on July 1, 2010, Obama signed the Iran Sanctions Act, which to date are "the toughest sanctions against Iran ever passed by the United States Congress," said Obama.
It’s a welcome effort, and at least a worthy start. But it is only a start. Unfortunately, after wasting the first year and a half of his presidency with a false sense of the true nature of Iran, Obama and his crack foreign policy team have a lot of catching up to do.