North Korean Nuclear Proliferation
In his harangue of American diplomatic efforts with Iran, May draws parallels with North Korea and Iran. May argues that much like Bush's attempt at preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Obama will fail to prevent Iran's nuclear machinations from reaching fruition, due to our lack of a credible deterrent. However, this is an incorrect comparison for three reasons. First, no organization closely monitored the freeze of North Korea's plutonium enrichment program following the Agreed Framework negotiations. North Korea consistently worked against verification efforts, resulting in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reporting in 1996 that it had been unable to verify their declarations. By 2000, the Director-General of the IAEA, Mohammed El Baradei, stated that little had been gleaned by the Agency since the initial agreement in 1994, because of uncooperative behavior on behalf of the DPRK. In stark contrast, Iran has worked closely with the IAEA on verification efforts, more so than either Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-Il. In fact, the IAEA has been able to verify the initial declarations made by Iran over its nuclear stockpile. Secondly, Iran and North Korea are two separate nations, with two very different views on international engagement. Iran is a cosmopolitan nation that has a history of international engagement since the 1990s, whereas North Korea is a hermit nation that has formal, close relations with no nations outside of China and perhaps Russia. Their respective security situations--outside of being an enemy of America--are also different: the foremost concern of North Korea is maintaining internal security, whereas Iran is primarily concerned with establishing a sphere of influence within the Middle East. Finally, the failures of both the Agreed Framework and Six Power Talks were not because of an excess of "carrots", but a lack thereof. What May fails to realize is that immediately after the Agreed Framework, America began to heavily sanction North Korea over its missile program. This helped to sour the deal, reducing North Korean incentive to cooperate with the United States and international community. Thus, the resulting decade saw tensions ebb and flow, until a crisis in 2002 over North Korean uranium enrichment ultimately led to the Six Power Talks. In 2005, North Korea declared that it would forgo the development of nuclear weapons in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, immediately after this, America decided to increase sanctions, which once again reduced the impetus for North Korea to comply with expectations. To put it this way, North Korea presumably agreed to international pressures because it expected to achieve increased economic security. When this did not happen, what reason did North Korea's leadership have to continue playing along with American demands? None--because we established a precedent in which we would increase pressure, regardless if they complied or not.
The Iranian Hostage Crisis
May contends that the Iranian hostage crisis reached its conclusion due to a fear by Iran that Reagan would use force to retrieve them. However, this is a misconception. Jimmy Carter had been in negotiations with Iran since before the 1980 election occurred. Originally, the Iranian government made ridiculous demands, necessitating Nigerian diplomats to be brought in as intermediaries. By the inauguration, an agreement had been reached, but not out of fear. In all likelihood, Iran was desperate to have American sanctions lifted in order to acquire supplies for their ongoing war against Iraq.
It's also important to remember that America's previous military attempt to rescue the hostages, Operation Eagle Claw, was a massive failure. So it wouldn't make sense for Iran to believe that outcome would be any different under Reagan as opposed to Carter--neither were responsible with crafting military operations, their main role as Commander-in-Chief is create policy goals for the military to reach and sanction operations. Even with Reagan's plans to beef up security spending, the Iranian hostage crisis did not make up a major plank in his 1980 presidential platform, he instead emphasized the need for a strong nation defense against the Soviet Union and advocated for a shift to supply side economics. Therefore, it's questionable that Reagan's election played a significant role in Iran's calculus.
America's Support of the Palestinian Unity
Contrary to what May asserted, America will not be using its tax dollars to fund Hamas. Both Hamas and Fateh have agreed that the unity government will not be composed of Hamas members, but rather independent technocrats until elections can be held. Given the massive unpopularity of Hamas in Gaza, it's unlikely that they will be able to establish a monopoly on influence in Palestine's new government. Therefore, this would represent a step towards deradicalization in Gaza and undermine Iran's influence there. Instead of Hamas controlling all political operations within the territory, the significantly more moderate and less violent Fatah party will have shared power. Furthermore, it's not as if America is throwing its political weight behind Hamas. John Kerry stated that funding will be based on the actions of the Palestinian Unity government. This is a perfectly valid position to take: we're neither preemptively increasing our support of Palestine nor condemning it to failure. Instead, we are proceeding normally. If Israel's security is substantially diminished by this development, then we can easily pull back our funding of the government.
Of course, all of this presumes that a unity government will, in fact, stay erected. Fatah and Hamas entities have agreed upon establishing a unity government in the past. However, plans always fall through. My guess would be that Hamas recognizes the threat it presents to its power hold in Gaza. But with conditions deteriorating, relations with Iran dwindling, and internal unrest increasing, they very well may believe that they must give up some power in order to retain any at all.
The Syrian Red Line Debacle
Out of all the arguments made by May, this easily holds the most weight. Last summer, America failed to go through with a red line we set against Assad: to not cross the chemical threshold. While I myself believe that it was a stupid position to take in the first place, it does not change our original threat to utilize force against Assad should he deploy chemical weapons.
However, credibility is situational, not categorical. The actions of a nation in one situation do not necessarily reflect its willingness to take action in another. Take the Cuban missile crisis. Following our successful gamble, no one in Washington suddenly questioned the Soviet Union's willingness to respond against American aggression in Berlin. Not every crisis or transgression rates the same to countries, and chemical weapons use in Syria is no different. For the United States, upholding the Convention on Chemical Weapons is a low priority. In the 1980s, we aided Saddam Hussein in the manufacturing of chemical weapons to use against Iran, and then subsequently gave him the tactical intelligence to effectively employ them. Syria's chemical weapons has never been a major issue for the American foreign policy establishment: we've never put in place massive sanctions on Syria for its arsenal, never held meetings to dismantle infrastructure (prior to the August attacks, at least), or launched cyber attacks to dismantle Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure. Unlike Syria, Congress is out for blood in regards to Iran's nuclear program. Senators from both parties have tried to undercut American diplomatic efforts in order to place even more stringent sanctions against Iran. The is very little doubt that congress would impede Obama's attempts to strike Iran. All of this signals a much stronger resolve to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Iranian government, because the stakes of nuclear proliferation are significantly higher than that of chemical weapons use.