Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tough Hillary, Nice-Guy Barack?

It's a paradox of diplomacy, isn't it? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck just the right note when she told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that:

"By following the diplomatic path we are on [with Iran], we gain credibility and influence with a number of nations who would have to participate in order to make the sanctions regime as tight and crippling as we would want it to be" to discourage Iran's nuclear weapons' program.

This is the proper use of carrots-and-sticks, incentives and threats.

Such statements raise two questions:

First,is Clinton playing "bad cop" to President Barack Obama's "good cop?" In other words, she's being the tough one making the threats and he's being the nice guy promising to be open and friendly?

That might be true although, on balance, I think it might reflect their difference in approach, which will eventually lead to a collision. Still, the administration must be coordinating statements so perhaps this division of labor is real.

Second, three European allies of the United States--Britain, France, and Germany--spent years unsuccessfully trying to negotiate with Iran on the nuclear issue. They learned that the regime there is unwilling to stop developing atomic weapons. They, and many others, are ready to follow American leadership on the issue.

No matter how much the United States follows "the diplomatic path" it is not going to "gain credibility and influence" with the two countries blocking tougher sanctions, China and Russia. Why? Because it isn't a question of their being impressed and saying, "My, my, those Americans sure tried hard! We better support them."

It is a matter of national interests. Russia sees Iran, though one shouldn't overstate the word, as almost an ally. The Putin regime wants to sabotage U.S. efforts and to stay on good terms with its neighboring state. In fact, Moscow has been cozying up to the Iran-Syria alliance for some time, selling both nuclear technology and weapons.

China is desperate to secure oil supplies and wants to stay on good terms with Iran for that reason. In addition, China fears sanctions in principle because it fears that they might one day be used against itself.

So the exercise of engagement with Iran will be futile in three ways: Tehran won't compromise; doubters won't be persuaded to help; and by the time the United States gets around to the "crippling sanctions" it will be too late.

Indeed, Iran's regime--with good reason--is already reacting to such threats like the--if you'll excuse the reference--little pig in the fairy tale who had a brick house and laughed at the wolf's threats to knock it down by blowing on it.

Again, though, Clinton said the right thing. Then Rep. Howard Berman, chairing the committee meeting, asked her how long this engagement would go on. She didn't answer, which was again the right response. The administration cannot be tied down by a timetable, especially a public timetable.

Nevertheless, that's the most important question, perhaps it will even prove the question of the century.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.