Obama as Charlie Brown? Not Quite

 (Photo: Mareddy_64/Flickr)

In a column in National Review, Ilan Berman argues that the Obama administration is the perennial sucker when it comes to diplomacy with Iran:

If you grew up any time in the last half-century, chances are you have fond memories of Charles Schulz’s iconic “Peanuts” comic strip and its hard-luck protagonist, Charlie Brown. Each week brought a new misfortune for the unhappy Charlie, but never more so than when his crafty friend Lucy offered to play football — a game that, no matter how many times it was attempted, invariably ended with Charlie flat on his back.

These days, that little vignette is a particularly apt analogy for the Obama administration’s Iran policy. Time and again, the Iranian regime has succeeded in frustrating the White House’s earnest attempts at diplomatic “engagement.” So it was last week, when — on the heels of a very public diplomatic charm offensive aimed at the West — Iran’s new, ostensibly moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, struck a familiar tone during his visit to the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

Just when it looks like Iran is making a genuine overture, they yank the football away at the last minute — those silly, naive Americans!

Here's the problem with Berman's Peanuts analogy: in the cartoon, Lucy and Charlie Brown were the only players in the game; in real life, there is a third. The Iranian people may be spectators, but they are what we can call active spectators, able to change the flow of the game if given the proper impetus. Yes, Iran is giving with one hand and taking away with the other — Rouhani and the more moderate types in the regime seem to favor a genuine detente with the United States, while the Revolutionary Guards and their supporters loathe the idea — but this doesn't betray a duplicity in Iranian diplomacy as it does genuine uncertainty. Put simply, there seems to be no consensus as to what the Islamic Republic's next move should be and when it should be taken. Amidst all this disorder coming from Tehran, the Iranian public sits on the sidelines, witnesses to this lack of diplomatic unity and political cohesion. And we would be the naive ones to assume that they aren't absorbing what they see.

It's not that the football doesn't matter, it's just that the goalpost matters more.