Monday, July 6, 2009

Hey, President Obama, Could Support for More Sanctions on Iran be Higher than it is Right Now?

By Barry Rubin

President Obama’s high priority is engaging with Iran on nuclear weapons and other issues. Why? Because, he says, the United States needs to show the world—and especially Europe—that it genuinely has tried to work things out with Tehran. Then, if the regime follows a hard line and keeps going with its atomic bomb project and aggressive behavior, everyone will know who to blame.

One might disagree with this approach but it could certainly be made to seem a rational strategy—three months ago.

Because along comes a huge crisis in Iran which does more than almost any event in 30 years to discredit the regime. Key European governments take a tougher stance than America. The most extreme factions of the regime pull together and crack down. So who does the Obama administration need to convince that it has tried to be nice but the outstretched hand is not taken by the Iranian regime?

In other words, the best rationale for the Iran policy has been shredded and the administration doesn’t seem to notice.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the world there’s a coup in Honduras. From what I understand, a corrupt and unpopular government was overthrown by a genuinely popular coup. In contrast to Iran, however, the Obama administration has come down very hard on the new government, trying to isolate and punish it.

Now, what’s the administration’s argument for not doing more on Iran? Well, it explicitly says that the White House wants to rid America of the image of an intervening imperial superpower and not stir up the nationalist resentments of Iranians.

Yet this argument has far more validity regarding U.S. policy in Latin America where arguably the United States really has behaved in this manner in the past. Isn’t Obama afraid of being considered a damn Yankee?
And in both cases the administration—which is supposed to be liberal and humanitarian, right?—has put itself on the side of the repressive reactionary forces. Has “left-wing” become the new “right-wing?”

Once again, the administration’s policy rationale and supposed ideology is shredded. Whatever the mistakes of his policy and administration, President George W. Bush took up a traditional liberal theme: democracy promotion. Obama seems to be following a line of autocracy promotion.

The administration’s new rationale on Iran policy is that the basis is gradually being laid for justifying tougher sanctions on Iran.

Ask yourself this question:

With an election stolen, demonstrators shot and beaten, hundreds arrested, and the regime’s most extremist leaders openly seizing power, isn’t this the best possible time to gain broad support for tougher sanctions?

Will there be more support for sanctions in six or twelve months because—oh my goodness!—Tehran officials aren’t forthcoming in meetings with U.S. counterparts?

Of course, not. When the most basic aspects of a policy are contradictory or lose their rationale it's time to think about changing the policy.

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