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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Dennis Ross and Iran: more of that Obama "change"

Dennis Ross has been appointed to "develop a strategy for engaging Iran." And what might that strategy be? It's hardly a mystery. In Ross' most recent book, Statecraft, Ross "argues that the Bush administration's problems stem from its inability to use the tools of statecraft -- diplomatic, economic, and military -- to advance our interests." Actually, the Bush administration employed all three of those extensively - diplomatic and economic efforts to isolate Iran, and very real military efforts (funding counterrevolutionary groups inside Iran) as well as continued threats of more serious military action. Pretty much the only thing missing is actual, direct U.S. military action.

Ross laid out his "New Strategy on Iran" in detail in a 2006 article in the Washington Post. His starting point:

With the Russians and Chinese seemingly determined to block sanctions, our efforts at the United Nations promise to evolve slowly while Iran presses ahead with its plans. If we stay on the same path, we will be left with two choices: accept the reality of Iran's nuclear weapons capability or take military action to set back its ambitions.
Ross' objections to military action are entirely pragmatic; the legality or morality of attacking a country which has neither attacked nor threatened us doesn't enter into it. It's the usual assortment of "we might not succeed" and "Iran could retaliate" and "might inflame tensions" reasons why we shouldn't attack. All no doubt true, but all irrelevant.

Ross' "insights" are telling. He resorts, for example, to the old "our enemies are lunatics" argument:

With an Iranian president who sees himself as an instrument for accelerating the coming of the 12th Imam -- which is preceded in the mythology by the equivalent of Armageddon -- one should not take comfort in thinking that Iran will act responsibly.
Personally, I would think that someone who saw himself as such an instrument would hardly be making public speeches like this:
We have declared many times, and we declare again, that our nuclear technology is in the service of peaceful goals. We declare that mass destruction weapons are sought by those who still think in the mode of 50 years ago. Those who think that political equations and cultural and economic equations can be solved to their benefit by relying on arsenals of mass destruction weapons. Our nation is a civilized nation, a cultured nation, that relies on the faith and will of its young nationals. Our nation, in order to achieve its aspiration, relies on the thoughts and beliefs and enhanced values that lie in the Islamic culture and Iranian culture. Our nation does not elicit its power from nuclear weapons. The power of our nation is rooted in the justice of its beliefs.
And the "new strategy" on Iran Ross described in that article?
Iran must see that it either loses more than it gains by proceeding to move toward nuclear weapons or that it can gain more by giving up the effort...

Why not have the president go to his British, French and German counterparts and say: We will join you at the table with the Iranians, but first let us agree on an extensive set of meaningful -- not marginal -- economic and political sanctions that we will impose if the negotiations fail. Any such agreement would also need to entail an understanding of what would constitute failure in the talks and the trigger for the sanctions.
Yes, what a radical "new strategy." Try to squeeze our "enemies" (Iran, Cuba, Hamas) until they cry "uncle." And get as many other countries as possible to join us.

One of Ross' main problems, like that of pretty much everyone else in Washington and the media, is his inability to grasp the possibility that Iran's desire for nuclear power might just be a desire...for nuclear power! Yeah, hard to believe, isn't it? Except it isn't hard to believe at all. Here's something from an article I wrote three years ago:

Iranians point out that nuclear energy makes profound economic sense for their nation. The nuclear energy program aims to use the nation's own uranium resources.

More important, nuclear energy development would allow Iran to husband its natural gas resources that are currently being exhausted for electricity generation, but that could much more profitably be exported to growing industrial markets such as China and India.
But why can't Iran just be content with accepting nuclear fuel from Russia, as the U.S. proposes? The Bush administration explained why they can't (unintentionally, of course) when they commented on Iran's first deliveries of fuel from Russia at the end of 2007:
"We for many years tried to stop it, and for the last year we've known there was no way to stop it, and that it was coming, and we held our breath on the timing," a senior administration official said.
But privately, administration officials said they had been hoping, with dwindling confidence, that Russia would continue to stall on delivering the fuel, in part to send a message to Iran that the United States and its European, Chinese and Russian allies were hanging tough in their attempts to punish Iran for refusing to suspend enrichment.
In short, as is obvious to anyone with half a brain, if Iran were allow itself to have a sole source of its nuclear power be an external source, it would open itself up to pressure, threats, and extortion from that source (or others with influence on that source) at any time. Russia wants Iran to do something? Threaten to stop deliveries of fuel. The U.S. wants something from Iran? Threaten Russia and make them threaten Iran. Would the U.S. put itself in such a position? Hardly.

And finally, as I pointed out last year, Iran is the largest producer of wind turbines in the Middle East, demonstrating clearly their interest in energy alternatives to oil and their understanding that oil is a finite, depletable resource.

Will there be a "change" because Ross will actually talk to the Iranians directly in order to threaten them with more sanctions and military action, rather than just doing those things indirectly? Quite possibly. Does it actually reflect any real change in the U.S. position or the U.S. "strategy" for "dealing" with the "Iran problem"? Not if Dennis Ross' past writings and statements are any indication.

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