The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Strategic Patience

There are two things that are reasonably predictable when the U.S. embarks on new foreign policy initiatives against heretofore implacable foes such as Iran. Those on the Left will: (1) counsel patience, hoping against hope that the implacable foe will somehow cleanse itself from within (thereby eliminating the diplomatic problem), and (2) that any overt act of aggression (e.g., severe sanctions) will cause the foe to hate us even more and therefore become a roadblock to further (futile?) diplomatic efforts.

In an interesting article in The Nation, a reasonably representative voice of the Left in America, Robert Dreyfus counsels “strategic patience” when President Obama establishes new policy with respect to Iran.

Dreyfus correctly notes that Iran is in turmoil and suggests that recent events (i.e., their bogus election) have given strength to the opposition. He further notes that President Mahmound Ahmadinejad’s position may itself be in jeopardy, suggesting that Iran’s real leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, may bounce the little man.
It's gotten so rough that some hardliners, including a group close to Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament and a key conservative, are warning that Ahmadinejad could be deposed, i.e., ousted. Another bloc of hardliners, including Mohsen Rezai, the founder of the Revolutionary Guard, and his allies -- among them, the former mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, and Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Khamenei -- continue to oppose Ahmadinejad. On June 12, Rezai ran against Ahmadinejad, and he's keeping his powder dry: two weeks ago, Rezai appeared silently beside Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president and billionaire, when he delivered a blistering, opposition sermon at Friday Prayer in the presence of Mousavi and Karroubi.

Dreyfus suggests that no one in the West seems to understand how all of this will play out, and therefore our course of action should be, well, inaction. There are two problems with this: (1) the real power is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and he is a hardcore Islamist and a true proponent of a nuclear Iran, and (2) even in the extremely unlikely event that Khamenei is deposed, the people who would replace him are far from pro-Western and would continue to be virulently anti-Israel.

So what do we gain by exercising “strategic patience?” Time? No, it can’t be time, because even the most conservative estimates give Iran a nuclear weapon in 3 to 5 years and inaction only healps them get the job done. Leverage? No, we have almost no leverage now, so how does inaction improve our leverage position?

But no matter, we must be patient because anything else would anger Iran and we certainly wouldn’t want to do that. Again from Dreyfus:
Other hardliners [on the American Right] are weighing in, too, and in response both Gates and Hillary Clinton have started making more and more noises about supposed "deadlines" for the US overture toward Iran. Unfortunately, President Obama has fed that fire, first with his talk in May -- during his news conference with Bibi Netanyahu -- about a December timetable for measuring progress with Iran, and then during the G-8 meeting in Europe when there was talk about setting a deadline of September for the start of talks.

In fact, neither deadline will be met. Perhaps September will come and go, with no talks. So what? By moving toward a harder line -- say, unilateral Western sanctions or a gasoline blockade -- Obama will strengthen the hardliners in Iran. He'll undo a lot of the progress made by the opposition in Tehran, and he'll give Khamenei and Ahmadinejad a justification for a tougher attitude toward the West -- and a more violent crackdown on the opposition.

It’s almost funny, if you think about it for a moment.

According to many on the Left we should do nothing, hoping against hope that change will occur within Iran. But doing nothing will more likely allow the Iranian Islamist regime to strengthen it hold on Power and at the same time ensure that they’ll have a nuclear weapon that might completely destabilize the region. Because if we do anything, the Left argues, it will allow the Iranian Islamist regime to strengthen its hold on Power and at the same time ensure that they’ll have a nuclear weapon that might completely destabilize the region.

The Obama administration has to have a better foreign policy that that. Don’t they?