Sitting down to the typical Monday mess of a living room table abused by an I.V. weekend, I pick up the remote and turn on the TV. I find CNN, where pundits are hypothesizing about whether President Obama has the military or financial resources to handle an uncooperative and potentially nuclear Iran after weapon inspections terminate in spring. But I was in no mood to watch talking heads fast-forward to the dismal prospect of a nuclear Iran; I was in an escapist mood. I wanted to rewind to times when the U.S. had adequate time and means to negotiate with, threaten or attack Iran: a time when the U.S. still had options on the table.
So, I lean back and imagine the remote in my hand controls one of those ritzy TiVo or DVR devices, and I rewind. As I do so — and I never thought I’d say this about watching CNN in reverse — I traversed the drearier half of the spectrum of human emotion.
I felt dread at seeing the 2008 federal budget year end with a $455 billion deficit. Going back from 2005 to 2003 was especially disheartening, watching Bush continue a cold rapprochement toward Iran when they agreed to suspend all uranium enrichment programs in an effort to normalize relations. I felt frustration at seeing the U.S. further alienate Iran after Tehran worked with Americans to expel the Taliban from Kabul early in the Iran war. During all of this, there was a sort of frantic inner scream of emotion at watching Bush let slide relations with China and Russia, two countries that will boycott (and therefore render ineffective) whatever punitive sanctions are imposed against Iran. I soon realized that I was watching a painstaking history, in reverse, of the Bush administration’s missteps in recognizing and responding to a long-looming Iranian threat. President Obama is heir not just to the financial and military setbacks that limit what threats — real and fake — he may make against Iran. He must also mend diplomatic relations with China and Russia and work to reduce the mistrust that Bush let develop between Washington and Tehran.
When I reached Sept. 12, 2001, I jumped for the remote and pressed “STOP,” thus reverting to the present. I could not bear to watch the Twin Towers sprout from ash to give a fiery birth to two airplanes. But also, I could not bear to watch the moment that distracted Bush from taking diplomatic preemptive action against the real threat: Iran. I never reached that tranquil time before Tehran was shunned, before relations deteriorated with China and Russia, before we had a deficit and two wars. I never made it to Sept. 10, when there were options on the table and bargaining chips to spare. The options are gone, the chips wasted, the table a mess; I put my remote down on it. Bush did not have an omniscient remote control that could let him fast-forward to a nuclear Iran, but he did not need one, just a little foresight.