Lucy and the Football

It is most unfortunate that cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the iconic "Peanuts" comic strip, is no longer with us. He died in 2000. Were Mr. Schulz still alive, he would have made a superb member of Secretary of State John Kerry's policy team that helped negotiate the recent Iran-US "framework" to slow Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Schulz could have advised Secretary Kerry about the real intentions of the Iranian government. "Peanuts" fans will recall one of his most famous recurring cartoons: the numerous occasions on which Lucy van Pelt would carefully position and hold a football so that Charlie Brown could get a running start and then kick the football "field goal" style.

Year after year, just as Charlie Brown's foot was about to make contact with the pigskin, Lucy yanked the football. Charlie Brown was left making a glorious kick into the air realizing once again that hope had triumphed over experience.

Any realistic, objective assessment of what has been going on with respect to Iran's nuclear program for the last six years would have to conclude that the "Lucy and the football" experience is a pretty accurate characterization.

For nearly four decades -- and especially in the last several years when the U.S. has been negotiating with Iran to block it from developing a nuclear weapons capability -- the Iranian government has been playing us for fools. Say one thing; do another. Throw out a positive signal; then back off from that signal. Start negotiations; stop negotiations. Meanwhile, the number of centrifuges keeps growing.

The process has continued under Republican and Democratic presidents, and Iran keeps inching closer and closer to having a nuclear-weapons capability, including the capacity to place such weapons atop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. During his presidency, Barack Obama has gone from saying that Iran would never acquire a nuclear-weapons capability to now negotiating the number of months (no longer years) -- the so-called "breakout" period -- before Iran can develop an actual nuclear bomb.

It is precisely this policy change by Obama that has upset Israel's president Netanyahu and most of America's Arab allies in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it will acquire whatever nuclear capability Iran ends up with as the result of an accord with the United States. A nuclear arms race in perhaps the world's most unstable region has now begun.

President Obama's strategy assumes that a negotiated arrangement with Iran, including a lifting of economic sanctions, will ultimately lead to the rise of an Iranian middle class demanding a more Western-oriented Iran that will, in turn, abandon its sponsorship of global terrorism. We saw a similar naivete and wishful thinking in the previous Republican administration when president George W. Bush's advisers assured us that toppling Saddam Hussein would not only transform Iraq (it did, but in the wrong direction) but also result in the Iraqi people welcoming us with bouquets of flowers. There were no roses to smell.

The hard reality when it comes to Iran suggests a different future. When do we reasonably expect that Iran will:
  • moderate its position on the U.S. as the "Great Satan"?
  • recognize Israel's right to exist?
  • stop calling for Israel's destruction?
  • agree to unrestricted inspections of its nuclear and military facilities?
  • stop lying about its intentions?
  • stop trying to circumvent existing sanctions?
  • stop its clandestine nuclear research and development?
  • comply with existing United Nations resolutions?
  • stop funding terrorist groups around the world?
  • manifest benign intentions with respect to its involvement in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen?

For almost four decades, Iran's leadership has not wavered. The current Iranian president and his predecessor have called for Israel's destruction, denied the Holocaust, and funded terrorist activities around the world. Iran's leadership -- secular as well as religious -- has a long-term, fundamentalist, and apocalyptic agenda that is relentlessly anti-Western when it comes to our values, our way of life, the importance of democratic institutions, and the model of our economic organization. Read their speeches; Iran's leaders are very straightforward and clear about their intentions. There is not one scintilla of evidence -- other than the naïve optimism of our president and Secretary of State -- that our future with Iran will be any different than our past.

Iran, moreover, is not Cuba, where the latter's Marxist economy has now finally spent its course and will, shortly, make way for market-oriented opportunities presented by trade, technology, and tourism.

The hallmark of a good negotiator is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of one's opponent in order to understand what that opponent needs in order to achieve a compromise.

The hallmark of a bad negotiator is to assume that your opponent operates with the same set of assumptions and values that underlie your perspective. President Jimmy Carter made this mistake with the Soviet Union and suffered a rude awakening when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Ronald Reagan did not repeat Carter's mistake when he met Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986. The Reykjavik arms-reduction talks collapsed, and Reagan was willing to walk away without a deal. His steadiness and resolve, as recounted in Ken Adelman's remarkable 2014 book, Reagan At Reykjavik: Forty-eight Hours that Ended the Cold War, were key to his ability some months later to conclude a major arms-reduction agreement with his Soviet counterpart.

It is important that the U.S. Senate will now have an opportunity to review and vote upon whatever final agreement might be reached next month with Iran. We must hope that the Senate takes a close, hard, and pragmatic look at this agreement and judges it not on the basis of future promises by the Iranian government but on the basis of our actual experience.

The American president, at any moment of the day or night, is just seconds away from an aide who carries what is known as the "football," a briefcase chained to his wrist containing the launch authentication codes used by the president to begin a nuclear strike. Ask yourself whether the world will be any safer if a similar "football" shows up soon in Tehran.

Charles Kolb served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy from 1990-1992 in the George H.W. Bush White House. He was president of the French-American Foundation--United States from 2012-2014 and president of the Committee for Economic Development from 1997-2012.

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