Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dialogue of the Deaf: Obama Sanctions' on Iran Fall Flat on their Face

By Barry Rubin

The big, highly advertised meeting of six great powers—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States--to raise sanctions against Iran seems to have ended without any major breakthrough. According to available sources, China and Russia took such a strong stance against sanctions as to make it clear that unity on this issue--which means effective sanctions--is impossible.

This is a huge failure for a main--perhaps the main--U.S. policy in the Middle East.

It was thus with little credibility that the meeting warned Iran that it must resume talks about its nuclear program by the end of September.

Or else what?

To which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replies:

“We have not heard anyone setting a specific time for talks. Interaction on the basis of respect and justice does not go with setting deadlines. Perhaps some people have made comments but it is obvious that this…is not compatible with today’s needs and Iran nation’s approach.”

Or, in other words, “No.”

So we are set for the next act: more dramatic announcements of relatively small sanctions’ actions followed by months of inaction as Tehran gets around them to some extent.

The Western powers still don’t seem to realize that whatever you can say about the Iranian regime a year or more ago, it is now a super-radical government increasingly in the hands of the most extreme faction. Some countries, including those in the meeting, still view Iran as a great opportunity for good profits.

Here's something you're going to be hearing a lot more in the future, from an article, "Limited options: Deterring North Korea and Iran by Lowell H. Schwartz in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists :

"The question today is no longer whether the U.S. can still prevent the emergence of nuclear-armed regional adversaries, but instead, how to prevent them from being empowered by their nuclear weapons.

"Deterrence of nuclear use through the threat of retaliation--a mainstay of Cold War military strategy--is highly problematic with nuclear-armed regional adversaries. The reason is simple: These leaders may believe their sole chance of surviving is brandishing or using nuclear weapons. Indeed, they might choose to abstain from nuclear use only if they felt that course would enable them and their regimes to survive intact.

"U.S. decision-makers in regional crises should seek to devise policy options that avoid putting the enemy leadership in a position where nuclear use seems to them to be the least bad option available."

But wait a minute! The first two paragraphs I understand, though they leave out a key concept--brandishing nuclear weapons is by no means merely defensive but can also be aggressive. They may brandish in order to make gains. Of course, anyone who looks at the Middle East and at Iran should understand that.

The last paragraph is positively horrifying, though. It suggests that appeasement will be the only policy available. After all, how will the United States ensure that Iran--which is a pretty paranoid regime--not feel threatened? By not asserting its own interests and making sure not to trespass on what Iran's regime defines as its interests. And Iran's regime defines as its interest: hegemony in the Middle East, the spread of radical Islamist regimes, the expulsion of Western influence from the region, and the destruction of Israel.

How can Iran be treated as a purely defense-oriented regime? True, Tehran worries about U.S. encirclement and the fall of the revolutionary government. But that's certainly not the whole story.

For a more comprehensive look at the implications of Iran having nuclear weapons, read this. The probable  Western and Arab readiness to surrender to a nuclear Iran is as frightening as Iran having the weapons in the first place.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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