February 28, 2007


The Tehran Option: Democrats criticize Bush's Iran policy, but theirs is almost identical (Shmuel Rosner, Feb. 27, 2007, Slate)

The pro-dialogue argument is an understandable and obvious one. In fact, it's the only option if you're looking for a solution that hasn't already been tried. Democrats keep calling for coalition-building, but the Bush administration can claim that it has already done that through U.N. Security Council resolutions. The Democrats also keep calling for more diplomacy, but the administration repeats again and again that it is committed to a "diplomatic solution." Since every poll shows that the public will always support "direct dialogue," whatever that means, the Democrats are wise to focus on this option, which also has the benefit of being a recommendation of the Iraq Study Group.

"Can we not speak of the interests of others, work to establish a sustained dialogue, and seek to benefit the people of Iran and the region?" asks the new Web site stopIranWar.com, sponsored by Gen. Wesley Clark. "We have tools available to us to engage them," Edwards said in Iowa two weeks ago. What benefits the Democrats on the issue of engagement is that most people aren't interested in details. No talks are happening--so it must be that the administration doesn't want any. But is that really true? "What we need to do is to engage Iran on the basis of the international community's standard," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week. This standard is "that they need to stop their enrichment and reprocessing capabilities" for the talks to begin.

Do you hear any Democrats suggesting that this condition should be removed from the table? Do they want the United States to talk to Iran while the centrifuges in Natanz are producing enriched uranium? I couldn't find any such suggestion. What one does hear from the Democrats is a general, noncommittal assertion of the need to talk. For the past year or so, this has been administration policy, but only if the Iranians will freeze their enrichment activities. On Monday, David Ignatius reported that this policy will be moderated even further. "The Bush administration has agreed to sit around a negotiating table with official representatives of Iran and Syria next month--as part of a planned regional conference in Baghdad to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq."

If the Democrats' policy propositions seem like the one the administration is implementing, talk about the future is even more similar--but once again, political masquerading covers it in a lot of anti-Bush rhetoric.

The sad thing is that the Democrats could stick to the dialogue option but still be proposing a radically different approach, if only the understood the situation any better. Sending senior Administration officials, congressional delegations and even the President himself to speak directly to the people of Iran and to senior clerics, while cutting Ahmedinejad and his clique out of the loop altogether, would hasten the reforms that the Iranians need.

Will Surge Hurt US More Than Sanctions Hurt Iran? (Trita Parsi, Feb 26, 2007, IPS)

Over the past few months, Iran's hard-line president has suffered several political defeats at home. The most important of these were the Dec. 15 municipal elections last year where candidates allied with the president fared miserably, while centrist conservatives close to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani -- a key rival of Ahmadinejad -- made significant gains.

Ahmadinejad's defeat, coupled with increased criticism against him at home over his economic policies and his failure to evade U.N. Security Council Sanctions, have left Washington with the impression that its efforts to squeeze Iran's access to international finance has borne fruit at a surprising rate.

Washington's euphoria over this perceived success has been used as an argument with its European allies that the pressure is working and that if only Europe joins the U.S., Iran will eventually be brought down to its knees.

This argument is likely to be repeated today when the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany meet to discuss how to respond to Iran's refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, as requested by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1737.

But Washington's reading of developments in Iran is severely flawed. Most importantly, there is likely no significant causality between the U.S.'s recently imposed unilateral financial sanctions and Ahmadinejad's dwindling popularity.

The George W. Bush administration seems to be confusing its sanctions policies with Ahmadinejad's incompetent economic policies. The push-back against Ahmadinejad has, according to observers of Iran's domestic political scene, far more to do with his failed economic policies and his populist promises, which have created exaggerated expectations among the Iranian populace, than with Tehran's nuclear posturing or Washington's financial sanctions.

A key trigger of the anti-Ahmadinejad sentiments has been rising inflation, which has been caused by an influx of liquidity into the Iranian economy rather than a shortage of it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 28, 2007 5:39 PM
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