He starts by pointing out the irony of the relative weakness and strength of Iran and post-America respectively as the two have engaged in patty-cake over the last several years. Sanctions have indeed crippled the Iranian economy, and the mulllahs know that the populace would overthrow them if it ever got a real chance.
Still, Iran has been able to play the P5+1, led by post-America's Secretary Global-Test and the singularly clueless Wendy Sherman, who did such a bang-up job during her participation in the Six-Way Talks with North Korea, for fools with utter consistency.
Freidman does not deny this:
. . . for the past year every time there is a sticking point — like whether Iran should have to ship its enriched uranium out of the country or account for its previous nuclear bomb-making activities — it keeps feeling as if it’s always our side looking to accommodate Iran’s needs. I wish we had walked out just once. When you signal to the guy on the other side of the table that you’re not willing to either blow him up or blow him off — to get up and walk away — you reduce yourself to just an equal and get the best bad deal nonviolence can buy.
Diplomatic negotiations in the end always reflect the balance of power, notes the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum, writing in The American Interest. “In the current negotiations … the United States is far stronger than Iran, yet it is the United States that has made major concessions. After beginning the negotiations by insisting that the Tehran regime relinquish all its suspect enrichment facilities and cease all its nuclear activities relevant to making a bomb, the Obama administration has ended by permitting Iran to keep virtually all of those facilities and continue some of those activities.”
How did this happen? “Part of the explanation may lie in Barack Obama’s personal faith in the transformative power of exposure to the global economy.” But, adds Mandelbaum, “Surely the main reason … is that, while there is a vast disparity in power between the two parties, the United States is not willing to use the ultimate form of power and the Iranian leaders know this.”
He goes on to say that "[b]efore you denounce Obama as a wimp, remember that George W. Bush had eight years to address this problem — when it was smaller — with either military force or forceful diplomacy, and he blinked for eight years."
True enough, and there's good reason to say W's priorities with regard to his Axis of Evil were misplaced. But at least he spoke about the entire scenario with appropriate urgency and acted like a leader.
Freidman's conclusion in his closing paragraphs is the obvious conclusion to draw: We're almost certainly looking at hoping for the least bad deal. But, and, again, he seems to have his head on his shoulders to a surprising degree here, he says that even such a deal will have seismic implications in a middle east more unstable than anyone living has ever seen.