On July 14, President Obama announced a nuclear deal with Iran, which he said justified his emphasis on diplomacy over military force to confront America's adversaries. "American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change -- change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure," he declared.
How sad it is that, as the United States commemorates the 14th anniversary of September 11, Obama and Congressional Democrats seek to force passage of an agreement the majority of Congress and the American people reject. Obama may see success, but the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action instead symbolizes Washington's failure to understand the threats America faces. In effect, Obama's faith in diplomacy and our enemies' goodwill confirms the return to a pre-9/11 mindset prioritizing hope over change.
Perhaps Obama's attitude lays in ignorance of history. When, on December 1, 2009, he unveiled his strategy on Afghanistan, he offered West Point cadets potted history: The United States helped the Afghan Mujahedin battle the Soviet Union until the Soviet withdrawal, but then forgot Afghanistan until the 9/11 attacks.
What Obama omitted was that, between 1995 and 2000, the Clinton administration met with the Taliban on more than 30 occasions to negotiate closure of Afghanistan's terror training camps and win extradition of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Ambassadors, National Security Council staff, and even Bill Richardson, a cabinet-level official, called the dialogue a success, no matter that camps stayed open and Bin Laden remained free. Then, as now, wishful thinking prevailed. Thomas W. Simons, Jr., the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan, wrote in 2007, "There is little evidence to suggest that Mullah Omar is an Islamic radical with an anti-Western agenda." That illusion persisted until 9/11.
It's déjà vu all over again. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry refuse to recognize the ideology that motivates the Islamic Republic. To Obama, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is not an Islamic radical with an anti-Western agenda; rather, he is a politician pandering to his base. Never mind that Khamenei sees himself as Nayeb-e Imam, the deputy of the Messiah on earth. When Khamenei threatens to eradicate Israel or proclaims "Death to America," Obama and Kerry see only rhetorical flourish rather than the outgrowth of an ideology that holds the West in disdain.
History suggests otherwise. Khamenei's antipathy transcends sectarian hatred and regional rivalry. The 9/11 Commission found extensive Iranian cooperation with Al Qaeda ahead of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. It found, for example, that Iran provided Al Qaeda operatives training in explosives and allowed Al Qaeda terrorists visa-free travel.
Between eight and ten of the 14 Saudi "muscle" hijackers on 9/11 traveling to or from Al Qaeda training camps transited Iran between October 2000 and February 2001. During this entire period, current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was chairman of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, and was charged with coordinating such activities.
As Palestinians, Egyptians and Syrians celebrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ordinary Iranians held candlelight vigils to commemorate the American dead, something then-Senator Joseph Biden cited as evidence that Iran was ripe for diplomacy. The problem was not the Iranian people, though, but the regime.
While the Iranian people mourned terror in New York and Washington, Iran's leaders gloated. Reformist politician Mehdi Karrubi blamed "Zionists in Israel," while the Iranian press promoted conspiracy theories about how 9/11 was an inside job. Kayhan, a newspaper that serves as the voice of the supreme leader, declared, "The super-terrorist had a taste of its own bitter medicine."
When it comes to terrorism, Obama and Kerry wear the same blinders that Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once did: They see terrorism as rooted in grievance rather than ideology. It's a comforting conceit, because if grievance is the problem, then diplomacy and incentive can resolve it. There is no magic formula, however, to counter ideological animosity other than de-legitimization and defeat.
Team Obama, like that of Clinton before him, projects its own mindset onto adversaries. Just because American leaders are political animals, willing to compromise fundamental principles to get the deal done, does not mean its opponents are. To project self onto others misunderstands culture and the ideology that motivate. It is the epitome of arrogance. And, if it leads to "solutions" that empower America's enemies, then the only result will be bloodshed, not peace. Perhaps ignorance was an excuse pre-9/11, but it is not for those who today prioritize partisanship over security.