Monday, August 10, 2009

Hillary Says Iran Doesn’t Want to Negotiate. Will U.S. Iran Policy Turn Into Bambi Versus Godzilla Battle? Guess Who’s Godzilla

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said—correctly but not necessarily accurately—that the United States has no illusions that Iran will return to serious negotiations over its nuclear program.

In other words: engagement with Iran won’t work. Or, in Clinton’s words, “We aren’t going to keep this window open forever. “ That implies the two countries will be in an adversarial relationship.

The next step is heightened sanctions which means, though no official will admit it, that we are really back to Bush administration policy on Iran. On the positive side, Obama administration people can say that their government is more popular in the region; on the negative side it is perceived as weaker.

The Middle East prefers stronger and less popular.

I said that Clinton was correct but not necessarily accurate. What I mean is that her evaluation is right but may not be shared by many others in the administration, especially in the White House.

For example, National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Terrorism advisor John Brennan don’t talk like this. Jones put the emphasis on saying, "We have to deal with the figures of authority that are in position.” That makes it sound as if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in the driver’s seat.

So there will be meetings in August and September resulting in higher levels of sanctions. That is the administration’s plan. Then it will say to the Iranians: Now what you are going to do?

And, of course, the Tehran regime will ignore the threats and sanctions, continuing to advance full-speed ahead toward nuclear weapons. At which point they will say to Washington: Now what are you going to do?

The Obama administration has no answer to that one. This means that in 2010 we might be saying: Game, set, and match to Iran.

Meanwhile, three U.S. hikers are being held in Iran after they strayed across the border from Iraq. White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters that the administration sent “a strong message” to Iran that it should release them and other Americans being held.

What this administration may not understand is that a “strong” message has more effect if it comes from a government deemed to be strong and willing to do something to back up its diplomatic notes.

But have no fear, the three will no doubt soon be released. The Iranian regime will then stage a propaganda exercise to claim that this “generosity” proves how moderate it is, and there are those who will swallow this bait.

After all, didn’t the North Koreans just do it?

So here’s the new formula for success by radical regimes: build nuclear weapons, betray promises to America but balance that off by releasing a few U.S. citizens now and then.One might call this, in paraphrasing President Theodore Roosevelt's famous line, Speak loudly and carry a few American hostages.

Meanwhile, how is Iranian politics being analyzed generally? That there’s a lot of disorder and in-fighting. Not exactly the main point.

For example, Ahmadinejad is reportedly purging the Intelligence Ministry putting in loyalists. The Los Angeles Times says this “underscores the deep rifts and disarray within the highest echelons of the country's security apparatus since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed June 12 reelection.”

No. I think it underscores how Ahmadinejad is putting his people into place, steadily strengthening his hold on the country. There is no evidence that he is doing so against the will of Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei. The two men seem to have fused into a single entity, at least for the time being.

The most extreme faction is in control of the Iranian regime right now. There are not only no moderates for the Obama administration to deal with, there are no less than 100-percent hardest line of the hardest line.

We will now send six months on futile sanctions’ efforts. What happens when the Obama administration finds out what we already know: it won’t work?

Is the U.S.-Iran relationship going to turn into a battle of Bambi versus Godzilla? When Iran gets nuclear weapons will the Obama Administration merely send a “strong message?”

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