The amount of sheer bogus thinking emanating from august forums like the editorial page of the N.Y. Times about Iran sanctions is quite unbelievable. Today, they published an “I’ve-Had-Enough” editorial endorsing sanctions. And the thinking evidenced in the piece is simply bankrupt:
Over the last four years, the United Nations Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Iran stop producing nuclear fuel. Iran is still churning out enriched uranium and has now told United Nations inspectors that it is raising the level of enrichment — moving slightly closer to bomb-grade quality.
There are a number of unexamined assumptions in this paragraph: first, that Iran should not have the right to enrich uranium, a right given to all other IAEA signatories. Iran has never accepted this demand by the Security Council and there’s no reason it should as long as it does not produce a nuclear weapon. Second, Ahmadinejad announced an INTENT to move to enriching 20% uranium. The anti-Iran media has trumpeted this as evidence that Iran is moving toward a bomb, for which it would need 90% enrichment. To say that a country is “moving slightly closer to bomb-grade quality” is to seem to say something but to actually say very little.
I particularly love to petulance of this passage:
Enough is enough. Iran needs to understand that its nuclear ambition comes with a very high cost.
Oh really. What is that very high cost? That you’ll stop fuel imports to Iran? And what will that do? Who will that harm? The regime? Hardly. Common folk who need to ride buses to work or take taxis to the hospital, that’s who. Face it. Neither the Times nor the U.S. government has much sway in this matter. And pretending you do, pretending there’s some magic sanctions bullet that will pull this one out is simply wishful, magical thinking.
Here’s more of it:
Iran is in such economic and political turmoil that its government may be more vulnerable to outside pressure.
And I may be canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, but it’s highly unlikely. First, Iran is in political turmoil but NOT economic turmoil. There have been sanctions since 1995 and the sheer number of them could probably fill the Manhattan phone book. But has it really accomplished anything? Caused any change of policy on Iran’s part? Created any vulnerabilities in the regime? No on all counts. So why do we repeat the same old stupid mantras as if doing so will finally make them make sense?
David Sanger, in a separate piece of analysis, characterizes Israel’s similar point of view thus:
…The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while worried that Mr. Obama may go soft on Iran, seems to believe that the Iranian government is so fragile that truly harsh sanctions might crack it.
When U.S. officials are spouting the same crackpot nonsense about Iran that Bibi and the Mossad are, you know we’re in big trouble. Apparently, someone gave all of them a lobotomy and they stopped making any sense at all when dealing with this subject.
So why, in the minds of the editor who penned this piece of foreign policy genius, should China join the boys and get on board the sanctions bus?
China needs to understand that ensuring reliable oil supplies would become a lot harder if the Middle East is roiled by a nuclear-armed Iran.
And I could argue precisely the opposite, that the fact that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon is what induces Israel to plan to attack it. And that such an attack is precisely the kind of nutso act that will endanger Middle East oil supplies for resource guzzling societies like China’s. Now, I’m not arguing that I want Iran to have a weapon. I’m arguing that those nations that have nuclear weapons seem not to be attacked by Israel and the U.S.
His [Obama’s] second gamble is that he can win over the reluctant Chinese, by convincing them that sanctions are a better alternative than the instability and oil cutoffs that would very likely arise if Israel attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama’s own aides concede that they have diminishing hopes of winning that argument with China.
Frankly, if I were China I would sit on it. If Israel wants to go on a fool’s errand and bomb Iran, China can figure out a way to muddle through while Israel follows down a road toward further moral and political quagmire. This will only draw Iran closer to China after the shrapnel settles, and Iran is a lot more important to China than Israel.
I simply do not know whether the following is bluffing on the part of Obama and the Israelis or whether they really are foolish enough to think that an attack can achieve anything like what they seem to expect:
The Israelis, officials report, now seemed convinced that the Iranian government is fragile, and that the sanctions might work. They have indicated, with no promises, that they will back off for a while.
If Israel does bomb Iran it will be a horrible deja vu experience for me. Just as it was before the Iraq war, you know what’s coming. You don’t know precisely how the bad news will unfold, but you know it will be bad. Very, very bad. And if Obama allows this to happen I simply don’t see how I can lend him any support no matter what other future achievements he might have.
Returning to the issue of Mideast stability in the event of an Iranian bomb, I have seen no evidence that a nuclear-armed Iran would create any greater instability in the Middle East than currently exists in that precarious place. Besides, I haven’t seen any evidence that Iran is decisively moving toward building a nuclear weapon. More likely it is doing what Israel should’ve done in the 1960s and what Japan does to the present day: produce the components of a weapon without actually building one with the intent only to use it if national security is threatened.
More vacuous unexamined assumptions here:
The more the Security Council temporizes, compromises and weakens these resolutions, the more defiant and ambitious Iran becomes. If the Security Council can’t act swiftly, or decisively, the United States and its allies will have to come up with their own tough sanctions. They should be making a backup plan right now.
The “defiant, ambitious Iran” is a fabrication of the anti-Iran hawks. Iran is no more defiant than any other country would be when placed in this position. Iran is actually a fairly pragmatic nation when it comes to foreign policy and it will be so concerning the nuclear issue as well. The U.S. and its allies cannot possibly come up with sanctions, sans Russia or China, that will work. So a backup plan like this is a non-starter just like Obama’s Iran policy so far has been.
One of the few analysts who does make any sense is curiously one who only a few days ago came perilously close to advocating regime change in Iran. But at least in this particular statement, he is precisely right on the futility of sanctions:
“The history of sanctions suggests it is nearly impossible to craft them to compel a government to change on an issue it sees as vital to national security,” said Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “They can affect a government’s calculations, but it’s no solution.”
One Obama staffer apparently sensitive to the idea that sanctions might do more harm than good, nevertheless continues to miss the point in thinking that Iranians are our pals:
“What you’ve been hearing on the streets is ‘Death to the dictator,’ not ‘Death to America,’ ” one of Mr. Obama’s top strategists said in an interview in December. “We’d be foolish to do anything to change that.”
The fact that Iranians may hate their government only slightly more than they mistrust and suspect the motives of the U.S. may be lost on people like this. We have a lot to make amends for regarding out relationship with Iran. This will not be a slam dunk. We are not seen by the average Iranian as a white knight riding to the rescue. Their government is the danger they know, we are (in their eyes) the danger they don’t know. It will take a lot more than Obama is currently offering to allay this suspicion of our motives.
Robert Wright brings some sense to the pages of the Times with this blog post featuring his entirely reasonable ideas about resolving the Iran impasse. Of course, the Times puts him only on the website and doesn’t allow its print readers to read his wisdom.
He notes, as I did above, that Iranians believe strongly and legitimately so in their national right to pursue nuclear research. He writes that the hope that somehow the reformers will “see reason” on this and be more ‘reasonable’ than the hardliners is a pipe dream:
…It will be tempting to hope that maybe, somehow, the good guys will win this time; and with a new, liberal regime ascendant, maybe the “Iran problem” — in particular, the nuclear standoff, which took a turn for the worse this week — can at last be solved. Unfortunately, we’ll be kidding ourselves. Even if the reformers miraculously swept into power, that wouldn’t help much on the nuclear front. Here the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has been at least as hard line as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The reason is that the Iranian people — reformers and conservatives alike — feel pretty strongly about the nuclear issue. The sooner we get clear on why, the better our hopes of resolving this mess.
He also makes an entirely reasonable suggestion for resolving the current nuclear crisis:
Why don’t we offer Iran something its public cherishes — the acknowledged right to enrich uranium — in exchange for radically more intrusive inspections, along with ratification of the additional [IAEA] protocol?
It would be a good start, which is probably why Obama won’t go for it.