Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me seven times, shame on the United States, whose leaders seem determined to drive it into a decline whose rapidity and extent is unparalleled in the history of great powers.

Shame on the Democrats too, for putting domestic vanity over the national interest. Shame on Barack Obama and, should he be aware of what’s going on in Vienna, shame on Joe Biden, for pursuing the diplomacy of disaster.

The State Department’s envoys are back in Vienna in the hope of starting a seventh round of negotiations over reviving Obama’s “Iran...

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me seven times, shame on the United States, whose leaders seem determined to drive it into a decline whose rapidity and extent is unparalleled in the history of great powers.

Shame on the Democrats too, for putting domestic vanity over the national interest. Shame on Barack Obama and, should he be aware of what’s going on in Vienna, shame on Joe Biden, for pursuing the diplomacy of disaster.

The State Department’s envoys are back in Vienna in the hope of starting a seventh round of negotiations over reviving Obama’s “Iran deal.” But there seems to be nothing left to talk about. Iran is increasingly intransigent, and its latest demands give the US and its allies a choice between surrender or defeat.

The problem with “jaw-jaw” is that when the talking stops, “war-war” is what remains. The Iranian regime has outplayed the American amateurs at every turn. It is often noted that the Iranians play chess and like to haggle, but really, a child could have outplayed the US.

In their colossal self-regard, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his chief negotiator Robert Malley promised Iran what it wanted — sanctions relief and an open path to the Bomb — before the negotiations had even begun. Naturally, the Iranians pushed for more, played for time and prepared for the day of victory. And now, to the shock of the State Department, they’ve announced a new set of demands that undo the hypothetical progress achieved in the previous six rounds of talks.

Checkmate. Now, it is possible that the US will surrender and get some kind of deal that John Kerry will call a return to the JCPOA of 2015. But this will be an exercise in face-saving — and it will only happen if the Iranians let it happen. If I were them, I’d keep pushing. Iran is now not just on the threshold of nuclear weapons; it’s on the threshold of finally defeating the Great Satan, expelling the US from the Middle East and Central Asia, establishing an empire over the Arabs and nuclear-tipped intimidation over Turkey and the Europeans.

That would be a strategic disaster for the West. Coming only months after the bungled Afghan withdrawal, it would confirm to America’s allies that the US cannot be trusted, and that its leaders lack the seriousness and resolve of smaller powers like Russia and rising powers like China. The Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett has already said that Israel will go it alone. Every other American ally will be in a similar position, only without the means to do it.

Not since Jimmy Carter has a US administration put so much lipstick on so unsavory a pig for so little gain. The thicker Blinken and company slather it on, the greater the chorus of approval from the US media. But this theater is a shadow play. It is plotted for a domestic audience, as part of the narrative of national redemption. All traces of the Trump administration will be purged when the true and right rulers of the American people, the Obama team, are restored to grace.

Unfortunately, the world is watching. The world is always watching American imagery: it is a habit of modern life, whether in politics or in the evening. The world generally enjoys the American propensity for fantasies and happy endings. But who is enjoying this performance?

Russia and China must be delighted as the decadent Americans jump on the rake and wonder why it bounces into their face. But America’s allies aren’t enjoying the show. In October 2020, the European trio of Britain, France and Germany refused to support the Trump administration’s push for renewing sanctions at the UN. They were hedging for an American reversal if Trump lost the November elections, and getting ready for a return to Obama’s policies of all carrot and no stick. Not anymore.

On Wednesday, Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, said this was Iran’s “last chance” to “return to the JCPOA,” and that Britain is “determined to work with our allies to prevent Iran from securing nuclear weapons.”

The French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says he no longer trusts Iran at all: “We have the feeling the Iranians want to make it last and the longer the talks last, the more they go back on their commitments…and get closer to capacity to get a nuclear weapon.”

The hardening of Germany’s position is perhaps more significant. Under Angela Merkel, Germany turned east, seeking trade deals with China, ceding control over its energy supply to Russia and, like Britain and France, pushing hard for restoring trade with Iran. The German foreign ministry now says that Iran has cheated the world. Its recent proposals, we are told, are “not a basis for a successful end to talks.”

When even the Germans say that Iran has “violated almost all compromises found previously in months of hard negotiations,” the obvious can no longer be denied. And so, after all this time, Antony Blinken sheepishly admits what has been clear to a child all along: “Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance.”

It never was. Iran’s leaders have played a bad hand with skill and tenacity, and the leaders of the West have bungled and bumbled their way to the lip of disaster.

The best-case scenario now is a nuclear cold war in the Middle East. The administration will claim that this will be other people’s problem, and not America’s. This may be true for a short while, until the next crisis reveals the consequences of failure and incompetence: a massive loss of American credibility which will undermine future attempts to recover influence in the world. If you are not serious, no one will take you seriously.