It's Lucy and the football, Iran-style. After ostensibly tough talk about preventing Iran from going nuclear, the Obama administration acquiesced to yet another round of talks with the mullahs.
This, 14 months after the last group-of-six negotiations collapsed in Istanbul because of blatant Iranian stalling and unseriousness. Nonetheless, the new negotiations will be both without precondition and preceded by yet more talks to decide such trivialities as venue.
These negotiations don't just gain time for a nuclear program about whose military intent the IAEA is issuing alarming warnings. They make it extremely difficult for Israel to do anything about it (while it still can), lest Israel be universally condemned for having aborted a diplomatic solution.
If the administration were serious about achievement rather than appearance, it would have warned that this was the last chance for Iran to come clean and would have demanded a short timeline. After all, President Obama insisted on deadlines for the Iraq withdrawal, the Afghan surge and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Why leave these crucial talks open-ended when the nuclear clock is ticking?
This re-engagement comes immediately after Obama's campaign-year posturing about Iran's nukes. Sunday in front of AIPAC, he warned that "Iran's leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States." This just two days after he'd said (to the Atlantic) of possible U.S. military action, "I don't bluff." Yet on Tuesday he returns to the very engagement policy that he admits had previously failed.
Won't sanctions make a difference this time, however? Sanctions are indeed hurting Iran economically. But when Obama's own director of national intelligence was asked by the Senate intelligence committee whether sanctions had any effect on the course of Iran's nuclear program, the answer was simple: No. None whatsoever.
Obama garnered much AIPAC applause by saying that his is not a containment policy but a prevention policy. But what has he prevented? Keeping a coalition of six together is not success. Holding talks is not success. Imposing sanctions is not success.
Success is halting and reversing the program. Yet Iran is tripling its uranium output, moving enrichment facilities deep under a mountain near Qom and impeding IAEA inspections of weaponization facilities.
So what is Obama's real objective? "We're trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel," an administration official told the Washington Post in the most revealing White House admission since "leading from behind."
Revealing and shocking. The world's greatest exporter of terror (according to the State Department), the systematic killer of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, the self-declared enemy that invented "Death to America Day" is approaching nuclear capability -- and the focus of U.S. policy is to prevent a democratic ally threatened with annihilation from pre-empting the threat?
Indeed it is. The new open-ended negotiations with Iran fit well with this strategy of tying Israel down. As does Obama's "I have Israel's back" reassurance, designed to persuade Israel and its supporters to pull back and outsource to Obama what for Israel are life-and-death decisions.
Yet 48 hours later, Obama tells a news conference that this phrase is just a historical reference to supporting such allies as Britain and Japan -- contradicting the intended impression he'd given AIPAC that he was offering special protection to an ally under threat of physical annihilation.
To AIPAC he declares that "no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel's destruction" and affirms "Israel's sovereign right to make its own decisions ... to meet its security needs."
And then he pursues policies -- open-ended negotiations, deceptive promises of tough U.S. backing for Israel, boasts about the efficacy of sanctions, grave warnings about "war talk" -- meant, as his own official admitted, to stop Israel from exercising precisely that sovereign right to self-protection.
Yet beyond these obvious contradictions and walk-backs lies a transcendent logic: As with the Keystone pipeline postponement, as with the debt-ceiling extension, as with the Afghan withdrawal schedule, Obama wants to get past Nov. 6 without any untoward action that might threaten his re-election.
For Israel, however, the stakes are somewhat higher: the very existence of a vibrant nation and its 6 million Jews. The asymmetry is stark. A fair-minded observer might judge that Israel's desire to not go gently into the darkness carries higher moral urgency than the political future of one man, even if he is president of the United States.
Charles Krauthammer's email address is letterscharleskrauthammer.com.