Barack Obama and the Hall of Fame of Straw Men

Barack Obama is famous for the false choice: time after time, he posits only two alternatives, one of which is his preferred course while the other option is an obvious straw man, sometimes a course that has never been advocated by anyone. Today’s statement on the release of four prisoners by Iran (in exchange for our release of captured Iranians) is a classic of the genre.

Obama began by describing a world in which his political opponents are afraid to engage in diplomacy, while he courageously engaged with Iran:

That includes our diplomacy with the Islamic Republic of Iran. For decades, our differences with Iran meant that our governments almost never spoke to each other. Ultimately, that did not advance America’s interests. Over the years, Iran moved closer and closer to having the ability to build a nuclear weapon. But from Presidents Franklin Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, the United States has never been afraid to pursue diplomacy with our adversaries. And as President, I decided that a strong, confident America could advance our national security by engaging directly with the Iranian government.

This is fantasy, and Obama knows it. In fact, his predecessor George W. Bush engaged in extended diplomatic negotiations with Iran along with the “six powers.” But the Bush administration, unwilling to make a bad deal that would hurt American security interests, insisted that Iran stop enriching uranium. This, rather than any purported fear of diplomacy, is why there was no nuclear deal during the Bush administration.

As we noted here, Barack Obama, as a presidential candidate in 2008, undermined the Bush administration’s negotiating position by signaling the mullahs that if they waited until he took office, he would cut an easier deal with them.

So the difference between the Obama administration and the Bush administration was not diplomacy vs. no diplomacy, but rather dumb diplomacy (Obama) vs. smart diplomacy (Bush).

Obama went on to suggest that the only alternative to the disastrous course he has pursued with Iran was another war in the Middle East:

And perhaps most important of all, we’ve achieved this historic progress through diplomacy, without resorting to another war in the Middle East.

By which he presumably means, a war with Iran. But this is a straw man of epic proportions. Who among American politicians or pundits has urged war with Iran? I am not aware of a single one. Obama had a perfectly good alternative to 1) a lousy deal that enriches the mullahs and makes it easier for them to acquire nuclear weapons, and 2) war with Iran. That alternative was to keep the sanctions in place unless and until Iran agreed to a deal that would actually prevent it from going nuclear. But Obama always prefers to take comfort in a straw man rather than engage with his opponents’ actual arguments.

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