America’s sanctions-induced tunnel vision
By now, the key takeaways from the Wikileaks release have become clear: Arab Gulf states privately pressed hard for American military action against Iran while simultaneously saying the opposite in public; and the Obama administration entered into diplomatic negotiations with Iran under the assumption that they would fail.
Campaign rhetoric to the contrary, it is obvious that President Obama did not engage in good faith over Iran’s nuclear program. What I have described as DC’s love affair with sanctions has barred Obama from seriously pursuing the diplomatic option, as it has for every previous administration before him.
More leverage is needed to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, the argument commonly goes. So Stuart Levey jet-sets around the world convincing companies not to do business in Iran. Groups like United Against Nuclear Iran have created a cottage industry out of trying to isolate Iran economically and commercially. And, in the words of senior administration officials themselves the Obama administration’s strategy for engagement has been designed to pressure, rather than ameliorate, Iran.
This was never more evident than in the immediate response to the Turkey/Brazil initiative that resulted in the Tehran Declaration. As has been shown through the publication of Obama’s letter to Brazilian President Lula da Silva, Obama’s plan was for Brazil and Turkey to fail to obtain an agreement on the fuel swap proposal from October, 2009, after which they would have no other choice than to vote for UN sanctions.
Iran did agree to the proposal on May 17, but regardless, the UN went ahead with sanctions anyway. And they even passed. So that’s a big victory for the Obama strategy, yes?
But those sanctions brought Iran no closer to resolving international concerns about its nuclear program.
Fast forward to today. Ahead of talks scheduled for Monday, Secretary of State Clinton emphasized that the diplomatic track must yield results within a matter of days, or else it will again be abandoned — presumably in favor of more sanctions, intended to gain more leverage, in order to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table. Do I detect a pattern here?
This cycle of sanctions and pressure, followed by a slight nod in the direction of negotiations, followed immediately by more sanctions, has failed for thirty years. Sadly, the Obama administration, after entering office committed to reversing course, has been unable to look farther down the road than the next round of punishments. No one has yet asked themselves: what comes next?
Ultimately, the answer has to be found somewhere in between perpetual hostility and complete capitulation. Iran will never break down and give in to our demands simply because we have (somewhat) isolated their economy. Nor will the US do a repeat of its “Nixon to China” realignment. The only light at the end of this particular tunnel exists in the form of a long, arduous slog through intense negotiations. Negotiations that have yet to even begin, and which can’t start soon enough.
Update: If you haven’t already, you need to be reading Lobelog. Ali Gharib wrote a post yesterday about this very thing. Smart guy.