Washington would coax Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito away from the Kremlin, tearing a hole in the Iron Curtain without firing a shot.
At least, that was the plan. But, after a bit covert diplomacy, some secret missions and even some public gestures, the U.S. gave up.
It turned out that Tito's "non-aligned" movement, billed as an effort to build a coalition of countries who would remain neutral in the Cold War, was largely a sham. The dictator remained loyal to the red regime -- and just another thug -- until the day he died.
America wisely walked away.
"Soft power" efforts to advance a nation's interests through diplomacy and the other instruments of statecraft can be effective — as long as the "means" don't become confused with the "ends." America got that right during the 1950s when dealing with Tito's Yugoslavia. This White House, however, has a hard time distinguishing between "process" and "progress."
The Obama administration is big on process. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, the chemical weapons deal with Syria, peace talks in the Middle East, negotiations with Moscow over Ukraine — all were trumpeted as evidence that the Oval Office is getting its way in the world. But these soft-power “achievements” have proven about as effective as using an umbrella to block a tornado.
Yet this administration seems committed to pursuing even more meaningless measures. It remains anxious to close a deal, any deal, arising from international talks about Iran's nuclear program. Tehran seems certain to get what it wants most: relief from international sanctions. But a decisive end to an Iranian nuclear threat is nowhere in these cards. The deal currently on the table doesn't curtail Tehran's bomb design or long-range missile programs, nor does it address Tehran's relationship with the world's worst nuclear proliferator, North Korea. The curbs Iran promises to undertake are easily reversible. In short, Iran can still engineer a nuclear breakout at a time and place of its choosing.
Likewise, there is little sign that Iran will ease up on its regional troublemaking. It continues to prop up the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, support Hezbollah, destabilize Iraq, fuel the Sunni-Shia conflict and sponsor terrorism.
Nevertheless, the White House will claim that it has made progress.
A recent report by RAND concludes that Israel and Saudi Arabia -- the two countries most nervous about a nuclear-armed Iran -- will likely accept the deal. But Israeli and Saudi restraint should not be mistaken as progress. If either country acted now, it would be vilified as the aggressor. Instead, both nations can only grumble privately about how Washington has tied their hands and empowered their adversary.
The president will insist that the deal postpones the prospect of direct confrontation, giving U.S. diplomacy more time to work its magic. Yet America's influence in the region has never been lower. Regional powers perceive the Oval Office as trying to disengage from "their" problems, even as instability and conflict rises throughout their neighborhood.
The RAND report suggest all kinds of steps the U.S. might take to address the concerns of its allies in the region and to keep conflict there from intensifying and spreading. But given our diminished influence, it will be heavy lift for the U.S. to pull them off. Further, the proposals are a Band-aid for addressing the real problem: a dangerous and untrustworthy regime in Tehran.
In pursuit of deals that pretend to look like progress, the White House continues to embrace anything that pushes off problems. But rather than create space to work for peace, Obama's diplomacy may only be planting the seeds for future wars.
CORRECTION: The nation of Syria was misidentified in earlier versions of this column in reference to its chemical weapons deal and the country's current leadership regime. The Washington Examiner regrets the errors. This story was originally posted May 4 and was updated May 8.
- James Jay Carafano, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in the Washington Examiner