Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I am disappointed with Pres. Obama's foreign policy initiatives towards Iran. All Obama's people can talk about is sanctions, maybe even "crippling" as Hillary Clinton phrased them, to force Iran to stop its nuclear development. Sanctions do not work, have never worked, and will not work. There were sanctions on Iraq and Saddam Hussein since the first Gulf War in 1992, yet there was no forcing Iraq to comply with U.S. demands. We see the same ineffectiveness of sanctions against Cuba and Fidel Castro. Yet Obama persists in threatening sanctions against Iran and Iranians.

Today in The New York Times, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett propose a smarter foreign policy approach to Iran.

The Leveretts write:

"Indeed, the meeting on Thursday in Geneva of the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany with Iran (the “five plus one” talks) will not be an occasion for strategic discussion but for delivering an ultimatum: Iran will have to agree to pre-emptive limitations on its nuclear program or face what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “crippling” sanctions.

"However, based on conversations we’ve had in recent days with senior Iranian officials — including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — we believe it is highly unlikely Iran will accept this ultimatum. It is also unlikely that Russia and China will support sanctions that come anywhere near crippling Iran. After this all-too-predictable scenario has played out, the Obama administration will be left, as a consequence of its own weakness and vacillation, with extremely poor choices for dealing with Iran."

How has Obama got himself into this no-win confrontation with the Iranian government and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? During the presidential campaign, Obama promised a new approach of rapprochement and mutual respect to countries like Iran. Yet here we are no, with a confrontational policy that differs very little from the small-minded policy of George W. Bush.

The Leveretts write:

"Because President Obama assembled a national security team that, for the most part, did not share his early vision for American-Iranian rapprochement, his administration never built a strong public case for engagement. The prospect of engagement is still treated largely as a channel for “rewarding” positive Iranian actions and “punishing” problematic behavior — precisely what Mr. Obama, as a presidential candidate, criticized so eloquently about President George W. Bush’s approach.

"At the United Nations General Assembly last week, President Obama used language reminiscent of Mr. Bush’s “axis of evil” to identify Iran and North Korea as the main threats to international peace and vowed to hold them “accountable.” In Geneva, we can expect the United States to demand that Iran not only accept “concrete” limitations on further nuclear development but also demonstrate the peaceful nature of its nuclear program to avoid severe sanctions."

The Leveretts go on to suggest Obama adopt a new policy of cooperation with Iran, one where each country guarantees the security of the other.

"The Obama administration’s lack of diplomatic seriousness goes beyond clumsy tactics; it reflects an inadequate understanding of the strategic necessity of constructive American-Iranian relations. If an American president believed that such a relationship was profoundly in our national interests — as President Richard Nixon judged a diplomatic opening to China — he would demonstrate acceptance of the Islamic Republic, even as problematic Iranian behavior continued in the near term."

The Leveretts call Obama's present policy worse than merely "clumsy." I have the same feelings about Obama's approach to Latin America. True, Obama did say hello to and shake hands with Bush nemesis Hugo Chavez. But then Obama let his Depart of Defense and State Department go ahead and make the foolish agreement with conservative Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, whereby the U.S. would send 800 more American soldiers to be based on Colombian airfields. No wonder the move has caused an uproar not only in Venezuela and Bolivia, but also in Brazil and Argentina. Here again we see Obama's lack of understanding of how Latin American countries view the "threat" of the United States and its military forces.

So then how should the U.S. deal with Iran. The Leveretts have a proposal:

"INSTEAD of pushing the falsehood that sanctions will give America leverage in Iranian decision-making — a strategy that will end either in frustration or war — the administration should seek a strategic realignment with Iran as thoroughgoing as that effected by Nixon with China. This would require Washington to take steps, up front, to assure Tehran that rapprochement would serve Iran’s strategic needs.

"On that basis, America and Iran would forge a comprehensive framework for security as well as economic cooperation — something that Washington has never allowed the five-plus-one group to propose. Within that framework, the international community would work with Iran to develop its civil nuclear program, including fuel cycle activities on Iranian soil, in a transparent manner rather than demanding that Tehran prove a negative — that it’s not developing weapons. A cooperative approach would not demonize Iran for political relationships with Hamas and Hezbollah, but would elicit Tehran’s commitment to work toward peaceful resolutions of regional conflicts."

I fully support the Leverett's proposals. We need a fresh start with Iran so that both countries can guarantee each other's national security. A foreign policy that emphasizes economic cooperation including development of peaceful nuclear power. Above all, the policy of Obama towards Iran cannot be left to Israel and Netanyahu to dictate.

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