What Appeasement Isn’t

Deploying probably the single most overworked accusation in the conservative lexicon, Charles Krauthammer condemns the Obama administration’s Iran policy as “appeasement”:

[President Obama] began his presidency apologetically acknowledging U.S. involvement in a coup that happened more than 50 years ago. He then offered bilateral negotiations that, predictably, failed miserably. Most egregiously, he adopted a studied and scandalous neutrality during the popular revolution of 2009, a near-miraculous opportunity — now lost — for regime change.

Obama imagined that his silver tongue and exquisite sensitivity to Islam would persuade the mullahs to give up their weapons program. Amazingly, they resisted his charms, choosing instead to become a nuclear power. The negotiations did nothing but confer legitimacy on the regime at its point of maximum vulnerability (and savagery), as well as give it time for further uranium enrichment and bomb development.

No, actually, the negotiations have been a force multiplier for the administration’s efforts to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. As one Israeli defense official told me for an article Meir Javedanfar and I wrote about this, the Israelis were initially quite skeptical that engagement with Iran would have any benefit, but now recognize that the effort “contributed to building international consensus” around the problem. Negotiations actually did the opposite of conferring legitimacy on the Iranian regime: they made clear to the world, and to the Iranian people, that the regime, not the U.S., was the recalcitrant party.


As for the idea that we could have had regime change in Iran in 2009 if only President Obama had sided more forcefully with the protesters, I know this has become something of an article of faith for conservatives, but the next person to describe a plausible scenario in which President Obama’s speaking out more explicitly in favor of the Green Movement in 2009 results in the regime’s collapse will be the first.

One can disagree with the Obama administration’s two track approach of engagement and pressure. But to describe that approach — which includes the adoption of some of the most stringent multilateral sanctions ever, successfully supporting the appointment of a special UN human rights monitor for Iran, and unprecedented defense cooperation with regional allies — as “appeasement” is to declare oneself desperately in need of a dictionary.

Cross-posted from Middle East Progress.