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Herbert London: Obama’s Grand Illusion

President Obama emerged from his White House Utopia to tell Americans his $400 million cash payment to Iran was not a ransom payment for the return of five Americans held hostage. Even if true – a highly dubious truth – there are questions that emerge from the incident that the president has not and will not address.

If this payment is an overdue judgment that goes back to 1979, why now? If this wasn’t a ransom payment, why did the Iranians contend the prisoners would not be released till the plane landed? If this was a legitimate payment, why pallets of cash in foreign currencies? Money could be wired to Iran via a third party rather than sending an unmarked aircraft in the middle of the night? And if this wasn’t a ransom payment, because as President Obama noted “we do not pay ransom for hostages… because if we did we’d start encouraging Americans to be targeted,” how does he explain the three Americans taken hostage since the January payment?

Whether one accepts the improbable legalistic argument Obama offers, what matters for future U.S.-Iranian dealings is what the mullahs believe. It is obvious they believe that arresting and holding Americans pays off. In a country on the brink of bankruptcy, the U.S. has bailed it out.

The larger question remains: Why would Obama do that? Behind the monetary exchange lies the naïve belief that the assistance the president gives Iran will be reciprocated with the claim Obama prevented yet another war in the Middle East. That is to be his legacy.

Iranian imperial ambitious have made a mockery of this claim with the testing of a new generation of long range missiles and an upgrade in the weapons employed in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. President Hassan Rouhani has called his negotiations with the U.S. “the greatest diplomatic victory in the history of Islam.” He is probably right.

The reported transfer of $1.7 billion would mark a new chapter in Iran’s economic history. It will also allow this notorious state sponsor of terrorism to buy more weapons from the Russians and to enhance Iran’s posture in the region. Despite these obvious developments, the current American administration believes the canard that “moderates” in Iran can be persuaded to move that country in a desirable (read: peaceful) direction.

This can only be described as the grand illusion. Obama cannot free himself from the firm belief that he, by dint of his ingenious negotiating skill and appeasement tactics, can fundamentally shift Iran’s Khomeinist ideas to placid Sufi-like considerations. Evidence to the contrary is rejected as Secretary John Kerry continues to tell the president about the smiles and congenial behavior of Iranian diplomats on the other side of the negotiating table. As Kerry noted recently Muhammad JaradZarif is one of us. The translation is that he can be trusted.

President Obama still has the opinion that Iran can be a stabilizing influence in the Middle East and a “constructive partner” going forward. For him the money exchange is a down payment on a liberalized Iran, one that rejects the 1979 revolution.

This grand illusion is not only naïve, it is dangerous. The apparent U.S. tilt in the direction of Iran has alarmed Iran’s neighbors. Sunni nations are scrambling for a strategy which serves as a counterweight to Iranian ambitions. Most notably, the U.S. is not in this calculus. The loss of confidence in Obama and his team is palpable. From Cairo to Riyadh official conversations deal with “what happened to America?” Can another administration reestablish ties to the key Sunni states? That remains to be seen, but it won’t be easy.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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