obama between a rock and a hard place on iran

Obama Between a Rock and a Hard Place On Iran

February 14th, 2010 By: Michael Merritt
| Tags: , , , ,

Being the President of the United States is difficult at best, as you are tasked with making decisions of many, many areas of policy, both domestic and foreign.  The job of being president gets even harder when you find yourself having to strike a balance between deciding how best to work with a system that is in the midst of turmoil.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is one such system.

On one hand, you have a government that has nuclear ambitions, officially claimed to be for peaceful purposes, though nobody buys that claim.  Currently, they are feeling pretty good about both the progress made on their nuclear project, and the fact that they’re still in power after last year’s presidential election.

On the other hand, you have a grassroots movement, largely made up of the country’s youth, that is clamoring for more personal freedom, although a small contingent of the movement would like to see the theocracy overthrown.  More over, the movement is angry about the results of the same election, claiming that it was stolen.

Through all of this, the President of the United States is expected to not only prevent Iran from creating nuclear weapons, but also support the ideals of freedom and democracy.  Thus, he has to consider which is a greater priority at this point in time.  The problem is that because the two groups described above are so opposed to one another, appearing to support or even make approaches toward one of them, gains ire from the other. At the same time, Obama also has to consider the reaction from his own countrymen.  His decision to negotiate with the government in power on ending their nuclear program, seemingly at the expense of the Green Movement, has gained criticism from his own countrymen, who seem to be equally conflicted about what the United States should make a greater priority.

I think that eventually supporting the GM’s efforts will become the ultimately foreign policy on Iran, no matter what happens with the negotiations.  However, I currently think that stopping Iran from procuring a nuclear weapon should be one of the highest foreign policy goals.

Don’t get me wrong.  Although I consider myself sympathetic to the Green Movement, I also understand who has the reigns of power in Iran right now.  And it’s not the Green Movement, as much as we’d all like it to be.  The Obama administration must be realistic about approaching Iran and the nuclear issue.  The fact of the matter is that too much public support of the political opposition in that country will cause the government to walk away from talking about ending its nuclear program.  And during much of 2009, and the first month of 2010, that’s been the way the administration looked at the situation.  It unfortunately meant the Green Movement was sidelined in favor of stemming Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but that’s because the administration had its priorities (chiefly national security) in line, not because it favored the current government of Iran, as some commentators have claimed.

I know that the #1 counterargument to the above paragraph will be that Ahmadinejad and co. have posed an about face to negotiations, anyway, particularly in light of the administration’s recent announcement of upcoming sanctions against Iran.  Even in this case, I think putting negotiations about the nuclear program at the top of the priority list was the right thing to do.  In my opinion, the administration had to try the negotiation route first, as there was a chance that enough international pressure to change their behavior might work.  In the end, their resolve held, but I think it was worth the attempt.

I am concerned about the effectiveness of the sanctions, which are being used as a means to get Iran back to the negotiating table.  Consider that Iran’s top export is oil, and when prices were high a couple years ago, the country was rolling in the cash.  Then the recession hit; Iran’s revenues fell and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s future as president was in question.  Well, now it’s 2010, and even though Iran hasn’t returned to its oil rich lifestyle, Ahmadinejad is still president (albeit by illegal actions).  Wikipedia tells me that Iran has the second largest reserve in the world, but only produces 5% of the crude used daily.  So while I do not wish to deny that sanctions against its oil exports would have some effect, I’m just not sure it would have the grand effect the international community hopes, given the current economic situation around the world.

That said, the Obama administration would be wise not to completely pin its hopes on sanctions scaring Iran back to the table.  It should wait no more than a few months before moving on to something else.  In the meantime, the administration should begin to develop a way to more actively and publicly support regime change, through the Green Movement, should these sanctions not work.  By that time, it won’t matter that the regime would use this support as a reason to not return to negotiations, as they wouldn’t anyway.

The top priority will still be stopping the country from creating a nuclear weapon, but the strategy will have changed, and it will raise to the same level the other goal of promoting freedom and democracy in that country.  I know some people will say that the administration should do this now, but I don’t think the time is right just yet.  Not when there are still other options on the table.  If we are going to be certain that the current government will not work with us, we ought to have earned that certainty.  Basically, by that time, supporting the Green Movement will be the best option.

So there are three possible futures open from here on out:

  • The sanctions work, Iran comes back to the table, and a plan is worked out.  Following that, the administration can turn its focus to supporting the Green Movement’s efforts.
  • The sanctions work, Iran comes back to the table, and a plan ends up falling through.  Following that, the administration can turn its focus to supporting the Green Movement’s efforts.
  • The sanctions do not work and Iran does not come back to the table.  Following that, the administrations can turn its focus to supporting the Green Movement’s efforts.

As I noted before, I think any future results in the United States publicly supporting the Green Movement.  In the meantime, the Obama administration is not going to risk the possibility of re-opening negotiations based on a supporting a group that may or may not prevail, and if it does, may take years to do so.  Meanwhile, the current regime will continue working on nuclear weapons.  If it needs to support the movement to reach that goal, it will do so.  But not until it has exhausted all other options.

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  1. observer

    February 14th, 2010 at 12:09

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    Quote |

    calling for democracy and human rights issues by USA is a very hard sell, these issues are not important to USA , after all USA has supported dictators around the world and still is doing it , 42 million iranian people during the last presidential elections participated in the election , that means they believe in their system , out of 42 million people only a fraction , less than one million protesters at its highest , went out to protest the results , that means more than 40 million voters were satisfied with the results , it is a shame that western media does not want to see the popularity of the iranian regime and the government,

    and for the green movement , it should be said that the majority do not want the regime change , only the radical minority within the movement are bent towards the collapse of regime ,

    and who is behind the radical minority ? you will find ……


  2. Patrick Glenn

    February 14th, 2010 at 16:11

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    Quote |

    Hey, Tehran Bob, I mean “observer”: Do you work for the Iranian government? Do you run PR spam for a terror, er . . . I mean charitable organization? Useful idiot protege of a Chomsky-style “progressive”? Please tell us from where your disgusting perspective comes . . .

    I’m tempted to recommend that observer’s comment be deleted, and then have hime/her banned, but it’s probably instructive to have this twisted mentality up there for people to see.

  3. Michael_Merritt

    February 14th, 2010 at 18:32

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    Quote |

    it’s probably instructive to have this twisted mentality up there for people to see

    I agree. This isn’t an invitation for an onslaught of pro-regime posts, though. Others will be deleted if this becomes a trend.

    He isn’t wrong on a point or two, though. The feeling, at least six months ago, wasn’t one of regime change, and I noted that in my post. The Iranian protesters mostly wanted more personal freedom, less censorship, etc. You’ll find that many Iranians want to see their country harness nuclear power, though the protesters probably actually do want it for peaceful purposes.

    Whether this feeling has changed in the light of the oppression, I don’t know. We don’t actually have any real numbers for the amount of Iranians who just wanted more personal freedom, never mind who might now want regime change. Keep in mind that news reports that make it sound like half of Tehran is shouting “Death to the dictator” at night might be…slightly biased.

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