obama 2



Harry C. Blaney III


America under President Obama and Secretary John Kerry is clearly embarked on a difficult and comprehensive set of diplomatic initiatives to try to change the serious global “risk ratios” for America and the international community. But frankly the stakes are high and the rewards are elusive but possible. The problem is that they have been thwarted both by opponents abroad and from partisan opposition at home. The idea of a bipartisan foreign policy is no more a reality than a domestic love fest on domestic issues. These myopic and obstinate obstructions have both stalled progress on a host of domestic issues and on achieving progress towards greater global prosperity and a more peaceful world.


Tonight the President will make his State of the Union address and the prediction is that it will focus on inequality and unemployment, but it will likely also note the challenges America faces abroad.  For one thing, Obama was handed a raw deal when he came into office, including a global recession bordering on depression, nuclear dangers looming in Iran, Pakistan, India, North Korea, and not least disastrous, costly, and mismanaged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of that, a global existential threat to mankind by climate change and the growth of inequality on a global scale.  He was opposed on almost every policy when he tried to deal with these issues. In his first term, the Republicans in Congress made clear that his reelection was their first and only goal — which they did not achieve. Now in his second term, malevolent opposition and obstruction are their main tools to prevent progress at home and abroad.


Iran is just such an example. While we are engaged today on a broad set of interrelated diplomatic efforts to contain malevolent forces especially in the Middle East and beyond, the Congress led by mostly, but not exclusively, Republicans are trying to scuttle the negotiations between the G-5 plus 1 Group and the EU and IAEA with Iran. They are doing this by now threatening to add unneeded sanctions to scuttle the path to a possible peaceful agreement and to entice the Iranians back out of any deal and move America towards an added war against Iran in which American lives are to be put at risk for no benefit and much cost to us and the rest of the world.


The sad part is that under Obama America has added key, strong, and comprehensive international sanctions of unparalleled harshness. These have cut Iran’s oil exports by nearly two thirds and imposed new bans on Iran’s banking sector. Together they have deeply impaired and impacted Iran financially. The Iranian Rial has lost about 80 percent of its value. Inflation and unemployment surged, and as a result, they have come to the table based on Obama reaching out to find a peaceful solution that can rid Iran of any nuclear weapons program. But any agreement must also have some benefit to Iran, especially to its economy. Both sides have to have a stake in the outcome.


Recently in the New York Times (1/27/14), Senators Carl Levin and Angus King argued that “There are only two ways to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon: negotiations or military action.” They stated the essential truth and the inevitable conclusion is that those who argue for new sanctions before the results of the negotiations are known want us to go to war. We need to ask why and at what cost to us and our allies who have backed the previous sanctions we proposed, thinking that they would lead to talks and not war.


The two Senators argue that: “The increasingly stringent economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran over the last three decades have worked. Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, came to office last year promising an improved economy, and he seems to have quickly realized that the only way to deliver on this promise is by achieving relief from the sanctions.”


They added:

“For us to impose additional sanctions under these circumstances (or threaten to impose additional sanctions) could be an “I told you so” moment for these [Iranian] hard-liners, providing the very excuse they’re looking for to kill the negotiations and, with them, what is probably the best chance we have of resolving this incredibly dangerous situation without resorting to military action. From our vantage point as senators serving on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, the risk analysis is quite straightforward.


“The potential upside of legislating further sanctions is the hope that increased pressure might elicit more concessions or push Iran to conclude a more favorable deal. But this is unlikely. The potential downside is more likely and more dangerous: Iran’s decision makers could conclude that the United States government was not negotiating in good faith — a view that Iranian hard-liners already espouse. This could prompt Iran to walk away from the negotiations or counter with a new set of unrealistic demands while redoubling its efforts to produce nuclear weapons.


“Instead of slowing Iran’s nuclear program, such legislation could actually accelerate its quest for atomic weapons, leaving a stark choice: Either accept the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, or use military force to stop it.


“Worse still, it could alienate our international partners. The sanctions have been effective largely because of the active participation of many countries, including China and Russia. When the United States alone doesn’t buy Iranian oil, it has little effect on Iran’s economy, but when the European Union stops, and other major oil customers of Iran such as China, Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey significantly reduce their purchases (which they have), Iran is in trouble (which it is).”


Their bottom line was “We don’t know whether Iran can be persuaded to peacefully give up its nuclear weapons ambitions — but it is very much in our interest to give this diplomatic process every chance to succeed.” I would add that the Iranians have said they do not want nuclear weapons and they too are working against the wishes of their hardliners to try and make a “deal” which they know in advance would require concessions on their overall nuclear ambitions and especially enrichment at and above 20%.


Iran’s intentions remain a bit of a puzzle and remain murky. The want to be the voice of Shiites throughout the region, they want to be a “great” regional, if not global power.  They see the Sunni countries as a threat to their regional standing, but also likely want now an economy that is growing, with lower inflation and to create jobs and exports.


They many also want to be seen as an accepted leadership nation in the larger global context. They know they are more seen now as a kind of rogue state. They know they will get none of these goals without the lifting of sanctions. That alone is reason to continue to negotiate and to even seek, overtime, a larger range of cooperation and rapprochement. The reality is that nuclear weapons in the hand of Iranians is more a danger to them than a useful tool. How could they use it or even threaten it without themselves bringing upon them self-destruction?


The Iranian debate in Congress and among right-wing war hawks writers and media shows us again the difficulties for America today as it undertakes difficult and complex foreign policy initiatives, when regardless of the goals and desirability of an effort, they will mindlessly oppose what Obama tries no matter the advantage to our nation. Think immediately of North Korea, think climate change, think Syria, think the Middle East negotiations, and then realize that it is these Tea Party/Neo-Cons, and right wing Republican hawks beholding not to American interests but to myopic and greedy paymasters, that are endangering our nation’s effective role in a high risk world.


We welcome your comments.

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