November 4, 2007

The Truth About Sanctions

Democrats have objected to the Bush administration's pursuit of sanctions against Iran as a precursor to war. They have ignored the Iranian intransigence on nuclearization and treated the White House as the source of the problem. In doing so, they have given signals to Russia and China to continue their obstructionism on sanctions at the UN Security Council. Jim Hoagland explains why Russia, China, and the Democrats are pushing the Bush administration to the war option as the sole remaining recourse:

And by mid-November, Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will report on whether the Iranians will now admit that they received and then developed P-2 centrifuges and got other nuclear technology from Pakistan, as was reported in this column in 1995 and as the IAEA has charged since 2002.

This is one basic that Bush critics frequently overlook -- in part because it gets lost in the overheated "World War III" rhetoric of the president: The IAEA and the U.N. Security Council have determined that Iran has lied about its nuclear activities and has therefore at least temporarily forfeited its right to enrichment for peaceful purposes. That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion. ...

Paradoxically, time is running out on the diplomatic track, where Russia and China are blocking a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran. This allows Cheney and other hawks to argue that waiting on diplomatic results is a waste of time. Blocking sanctions actually increases the pressure on Bush to move unilaterally and militarily.

China, blithely ignoring the potentially perverse effect of its actions, wants to maintain financial advantage and access to Iran's energy. Chinese participants emphasized that basic point to me at an IISS-sponsored gathering in Beijing in June. China would expect to be compensated if sanctions cost it business -- an attitude that would appall Germany's Merkel, Italy's leaders and other Europeans who have seen their trade with Iran plummet as a result of joining the U.S. financial campaign against Tehran.

The administration has too often pitched the confrontation with Iran as one that Bush alone will decide. Russia, China and Europe should do everything they can to prevent this from becoming necessary. Not backing the new U.N. sanctions brings it a scary step closer.

This may be the best mainstream media column on Iran I have yet read. All sides have a hand in allowing this crisis to spin out of control. The Bush administration could have been more circumspect with its rhetoric, which allowed its domestic and international opposition to paint it as too war-like, when in fact the Bush administration has spent the last several years avoiding a military confrontation with Iran, and for good reasons. However, the White House has some reason to believe that only the escalated rhetoric will get the attention needed on the crisis the world faces with the world's biggest Islamist terrorism sponsor acquiring nuclear weapons.

So far, Russia and China clearly have not gotten the message, and it's not for a lack of American patience. The Bush administration wisely chose to allow Britain, France, and Germany lead the negotiations with Iran for over two years on ending their pursuit of nuclear weapons. We publicly supported the initiative, and we also publicly endorsed Iran's membership in the WTO and an end to economic sanctions -- a big concession -- if they abandoned their nuclear aspirations. The Iranians not only rejected all of these offers from their tradining partners in Europe, they continued to lie about their program the entire time.

The world has three choices. We can allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, with all of the terrorist access that will create, allowing deployment anywhere in the world without the use of rockets or missiles. We can go to war with Iran, striking the facilities we believe house their nuclear research programs, with all of the death, destruction, and radicalization that entails. Lastly, we can use economic and diplomatic sanctions to force Iran back to the table for honest negotiations to end their pursuit of nuclear weapons. There isn't a fourth option.

Which option do the Democrats want to take? Are they seriously considering the first option? If so, then they have no claim to understanding global security. Barack Obama offered the rather silly notion that we should negotiate directly with a nation with whom we have no diplomatic relations, primarily because they issue genocidal threats against our ally and conduct low-level war against us through their terrorist proxies. If they didn't negotiate in good faith with their economic partners in Europe without sanctions being applied then, why would Obama assume they would negotiate in good faith with the nation they call the Great Satan?

The Russians and the Chinese don't have a problem with the first option, because they don't see themselves as the primary target of nuclear terrorism and nuclear extortion. If the Democrats don't like the third option, it leaves only one avenue left, which Hoagland correctly asserts leads us by elimination to military action.


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