As the NY Times reports today in an article about Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s trip to the Middle Eastern region:
Mr. Obama has said that he will reach out to Iran for direct talks, and last week the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran was ready. The two nations have not spoken directly since the Islamic Revolution in Iran 30 years ago.
So how does one begin that sort of a dialog when the target of the talks sees any concession as a sign of weakness and views your chief ally in the region as a cancer which needs to be excised?
As discussed during the presidential primary and then during the campaign, what you don’t do is enter such discussions without some established preconditions. And you certainly don’t unilaterally concede anything, especially if such a concession would help speed Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon.
That’s why this report from the open source intelligence newsletter GeoStrategy Direct is rather disturbing. Speaking of the new Israeli government, it writes:
Just as Barack Obama entered office facing a massive economic crisis beyond the scope of his experience, likewise the new Israeli leader will have to make or delay making difficult strategic decisions from the minute he or she enters office.
Barak has already signaled what the new government can expect, officials here said.
The United States has abandoned its policy of sanctioning companies that aid Iran’s nuclear and missile program, they said.
The officials said the new Obama administration of has decided to end sanctions against Iranian government agencies or companies that aid Teheran’s missile and nuclear program. The officials said Israel has been informed of the new U.S. policy.
“We were told that sanctions do not help the new U.S. policy of dialogue with Iran,” an official said.
Barak confirmed the new U.S. policy. In an address to the Herzliya Conference on Feb. 3, Barak said Washington did not say whether it would resume sanctions against Iran.
“Barak”, of course, is Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And, if true, you might imagine he and Israel are less than pleased. Trying to put a positive face on it Barak says:
“We must arrive at a strategic understanding with the United States over Iran’s military nuclear program and ensure that even if at this time they opt for the diplomatic option, it will only last a short time before harsh and necessary sanctions are imposed.”
Indeed. The stated reason for the lifting of the sanctions is they’ve been unsuccessful in stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unasked, however, is how successful they’ve been in delaying their acquisition? The removal of sanctions and the removal of all negative consequences for companies who supply such technology will certainly provide the incentive necessary for those companies to speed that pursuit along, won’t it?
How will the unilateral lifting of sanctions be viewed by Iran?
Well consider the internal politics of the country. You have an increasingly unpopular president under fire for his aggressive rhetoric and posture being challenged by a more moderate candidate. You also have a population that is growing tired of its isolation and the hardships imposed by sanctions. And there are rumors the ruling mullahs may not be particularly pleased with him either. Pressure is building against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some believe there is a distinct possibility that he can be defeated in June.
Suddenly, without any direct negotiations or concessions on the part of Iran, sanctions are lifted by the US. It seems to me Ahmadinejad could make a credible claim that his posture is responsible for the US caving and lifting the sanctions. He can claim, regardless of the truth of the claim, that his confrontational attitude is what brought the change. The message? The US is weak and confrontation works, reelect me.
And in the real world, results speak for themselves.
More aggressive and belligerent language, a campaign boost to a declared enemy of the US, faster realization of nuclear weapons for Iran, heightened tensions with Israel (not only from Iran but with the US), and a deteriorating situation in the Middle East. All that from a guy who says one of his signature issues is nuclear nonproliferation.
[HT: Gateway Pundit]
The new line out of Tehran is that Iran is ready for talks with the US if those talks are a “dialog with respect”. So let’s check out President Ahmadinejad’s words, shall we?
“The new U.S. administration has said that it wants change and it wants to hold talks with Iran,” President Ahmadinejad said.
“It is clear that change should be fundamental, not tactical, and our people welcome real changes,” he said. “Our nation is ready to hold talks based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad went on to say that Iran could cooperate with the United States to uproot terrorism in the region. “The Iranian nation is the biggest victim of terrorism,” he said.
But he referred to former President Bush as one of reasons for insecurity in the region and said, “Bush and his allies should be tried and punished.”
“If you really want to uproot terrorism, let’s cooperate to find the initiators of the recent wars in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region, try them and punish them,” he said.
“Fundamental, not tactical”. Remember, Ahamdinejad accused the Obama administration of only favoring a tactical change. His claim was the Obama administration would not be fundamentally different in its approach to relations with Iran than was the Bush administration. While in Munich, VP Joe Biden made it clear that the US wouldn’t tolerate Iranian nuclear weapons and reserved the right to pre-emptively attack Iran in case it refused to stand down its nuclear weapons program and produced a nuclear bomb. That is the very same policy the Bush administration advanced. How that can be spun as a “fundamental change” vs. a “tactical change” will be interesting to watch. But one is certainly hard put to describe such a policy as one which would place the talks on a plane of “mutual respect”.
An interesting line, of course, is Ahmadinejad’s declaration that the “Iranian nation is the biggest victim of terrorism”. The obvious reason for that declaration is found in the next line, i.e. the policies of the Bush administration are interpreted by Ahmadenijad as being terroristic in nature as they pertain to Iran. But, other than the “let’s talk” invitation, the policy of pre-emptive action remains the announced policy of the Obama administration as well.
Last, but certainly not least, Ahmadinejad clearly puts the Israel question on the table and lays out his solution for stopping terrorism. While Iran demands a “fundamental” change in the US approach to relations with that nation, there’s certainly nothing to suggest that Iran is willing to make fundamental changes in return. And its proxy war with Israel, through Hamas and Hezbollah is certainly an indicator of its continuing attempt to take the “Zionist entity” on.
So while some may be encouraged by the fact that Ahmadinejad is at least talking about better relations with the US, I say take it all with a large grain of salt. Iran has aspirations toward being the regional power in the Middle East. That is what brought it in direct conflict with Iraq and precipitated their 8 year war. Iraq also had such aspirations. Iraq is no longer a threat in that regard, and the only entity that really stands in its way is the US. Obviously Iran would like to neutralize the US and its influence in the region. One way to do that is to pretend to give the new administration what is so desperately wants – a foreign policy success. Entering into direct talks with the US would do that while really costing Iran nothing. In return for those direct talks, Iran would demand that the US tone down its rhetoric and lift sanctions thereby accomplishing it’s neutralization goal. It can extend the talks as long as it wishes while it proceeds on its merry way to creating a nuclear weapon and marrying it to a long-range missile. At that point, the US is no longer necessary as Iran, by fiat, will be if not the dominant regional power in the Middle East, a close second (assuming as everyone does, that Israel has nukes).
At that point, an Obama administration would be left to either live up to Biden’s words or back off and hope Iran doesn’t finally deal with the “Zionist entity” before Israel deals with it.
Food for thought.
Joltin’ Joe Biden previewed it in Germany yesterday:
As promised, Vice President Joe Biden reached out to the international community Saturday, saying the U.S. is open for talks with Iran and Russia to repair relations, and willing to work with allies to solve world problems.But in his first major foreign policy speech for the new administration, the Democrat also warned that the U.S. stands ready to take pre-emptive action against Tehran if it does not abandon its nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism.
Repair relations? Just words at the moment.
Pre-emptive action? I thought we quit doing that stuff. OK, pre-emptive action. Also known as maintenance of the status quo policy. “We want to repair relations but reserve the right to pre-emptively attack Iran”.
Good luck with that.
And while he said it is time to mend fences with Moscow, he said the U.S. continues “to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost-effective.”
Continue to develop missile defenses? Status quo – but again, with the caveat “we want to mend fences”.
Good luck with that.
The article notes that Biden was “short on details”. No particular surprise there. But apparently the “tone” was just music to the diplomats ears.
“I think Vice President Biden came to Munich today in a spirit of partnership,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told AP Television News. “I think he set an ambitious agenda with big goals and high objectives, and he called and challenged us to work with him. I think that’s the right spirit.”
That hits me as diplo-speak for “he’s going to do things the way we want them done”. And, of course, that’s not leadership.
Understand too that diplomats are also going to give this a positive spin because they stand to gain from it. That’s why Russia said:
“The tonality was rather encouraging. It was really a serious call to restart U.S. foreign policy — including, clearly, Russian-American relations,” said Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international relations committee in Russia’s lower parliament house.
That’s diplo-speak for “we think we can roll these guys”.
What details Biden did give included the aforementioned continuation of the missile defense and this:
“It’s time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia,” said Biden. Yet, he added that the U.S. will continue to have differences with Moscow, including opposition to its efforts to carve out independent states in Georgia.
Again, “just words” and status quo.
And to Europe, Biden said:
Biden, who also met privately with a number of world leaders, including top officials from Russia, France, and Germany, told allies that they will be expected to share the burdens of fighting extremists and bolstering weaker governments and poor nations.
“America will do more, that’s the good news,” said Biden. “But the bad news is America will ask for more from our partners.”
I’m not sure why asking more from our “partners” is “bad news” but it certainly reflects a continuation of the status quo.
On another topic, Biden told the leaders that the U.S. needs their help in taking the detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He repeated Obama’s vow that the U.S. will adhere to its values, not torture, and will close the detention center at Guantanamo that has spurred such criticism from European allies.
Of course we’ve since learned that the Obama administration has reserved the right to approve more intensive interrogation techniques and, of course, you don’t need Guantanamo if you continue give the CIA permission to use rendition as a tool to deal with terrorists.
But apparently, to this point, that hasn’t really penetrated the good will that Obama still enjoys among the Euro types. Once the new wears off and they’re actually pushed to contribute “more” they’ll probably “discover” the duplicity of Biden’s words.
Hope and change.
It sure has been getting low-key coverage in the MSM, but it appears the election in Iraq went off very well and is producing some surprising and, frankly, good results.
14,400 candidates stood for office. Unlike 2005, when 200 candidates were killed prior to the election, this time 8 were lost. 14 of the 18 provinces were included (Kurdistan’s provinces are having separate elections) and while turnout was considered to be low (51%), Sunnis participated en mass for the first time. William Shawcross describes the results:
All the Islamic parties lost ground, especially that associated with the so-called “Shia firebrand”, Moqtada al-Sadr, whose share of the vote went down from 11% to 3%. The principal Sunni Islamic party, the Islamic Party of Iraq, was wiped out.
The only Islamic party to gain ground was the Dawa party of the Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki – and even that party dropped the word Islamic from its name. The power of Maliki, who has emerged a stronger leader than expected, is further enhanced by these elections. Now no Islamic parties will be able to control any provinces on their own. The election is thus a big defeat for Iran which had hoped that Shia religious parties would control the south and enable Iran to turn them into a mini Shia republic.
I know this has some of you gasping for breath out there. We were assured by none other than the great Juan Cole and his fellow travelers that Iran was in total control of the Iraqi governmental apparatus and would quickly turn into what Shawcross characterizes as a “mini-Shia republic”.
Yet it appears that the Iraqi public are rejecting the concept of a theocracy in favor of a more secular government. And that, of course is a de facto rejection of Iran.
Obviously Iraq still has a long way to go, but it is hard to deny the amount of progress that has been made. Except for the dead-enders who’ve vested so much into this being the “worst foreign policy disaster in US history”, it is looking pretty darn good in Iraq.
USMC Maj Gen John F. Kelly gives you an indication of the level of change that has taken place in previously violent Anbar province:
Something didn’t happen in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, today. Once the most violent and most dangerous places on earth, no suicide vest bomber detonated killing dozens of voters. No suicide truck bomber drove into a polling place collapsing the building and killing and injuring over 100. No Marine was in a firefight engaging an Al Qaida terrorist trying to disrupt democracy.
What did happen was Anbar Sunnis came out in their tens of thousands to vote in the first free election of their lives.
One of the things I’ve always said was that we came here to “give” them democracy. Even in the dark days my only consolation was that it was about freedom and democracy. After what I saw today, and having forgotten our own history and revolution, this was arrogance. People are not given freedom and democracy – they take it for themselves. The Anbaris deserve this credit.
Today I step down as the dictator, albeit benevolent, of Anbar Province. Today the Anbaris took it from me. I am ecstatic. It was a privilege to be part of it, to have somehow in a small way to have helped make it happen.
There will be further setbacks. But who knows, Iraq may yet even become a model for democratic change in other Arab countries. If so, who deserves some credit? The much maligned President Bush. And Tony Blair.
Now that’s real hope and change.