Sunday, October 4, 2009

Obama’s Painted Corner: G-20 Announcement of Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Facility

In the titled link to Foreign Policy by Blake Hounshell entitled “Obama's Iran Trap” Mr. Hounshell questions the U.S. strategic leverage garnered that some of the President’s supporters believe has been gained by the recent announcement of Iran's secret uranium enrichment site.

Many of the President’s supporters feel that the President has just pulled off a diplomatic coup, raising the pressure on Tehran going into a critical Oct. 1 big powers meeting and finally getting the Russians to agree to U.N. sanctions against Iran. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "We have created a problem for the Iranians with this disclosure," and former President Bill Clinton said, "I think this is actually healthy that this has broken".



Not so fast according to Mr. Hounshell, who proposes that it’s the U.S. President with a problem now. By revealing this information at G20 summit, President Obama has painted himself into a corner and made an Israeli strike more likely. Mr. Hounshell notes the following reasons:

  • For one thing, it's not clear that "the Russians" have really agreed to sanctions since we don't know what Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's thoughts are on this development. Also there already is some tentativeness on sanction coming from the Russians when a Russian foreign ministry source reportedly said that everyone should "calm down" over Iran's latest missile test and "not give way to emotions."
  • China. Serious sanctions mean fuel, as Iran, for all its oil, still has to import a great deal of refined petroleum to make its economy run. But the Chinese get 15% of their oil from Iran. So getting meaningful sanctions through the U.N. Security Council is far from assured since China is a U.N. Security Council member with veto rights.
  • Opposite of what Mr. Obama’s advisors perspective that the President has pulled off a diplomatic coup, Mr. Hounshell advances the theory that Iran may in fact be the immediate winner in the G-20 announcement by President Obama. He states that the point of all this isn’t sanctions themselves, but getting the Iranians to give up their nuclear-weapons ambitions. Putting oneself in the minds of Iranian leaders you're inching closer to achieving your nuclear goals, Iranian leaders have been watching the North Koreans and noticing that even after they tested a nuclear device the regime is still in power and, if anything, the carrots they've been offered have only become more generous. “And you're willing to bet that once you've got The Bomb, you'll be able to sort out all those issues like your frozen bank accounts and airplane spare parts with The Great Satan.”
  • Iranians may be somewhat hamstrung by tougher sanctions, but they have oil, and other countries will still need to buy it. Iran has an ace in the hole with Dubai, where sanctions doesn’t seem to carry much weight and thousands of Iranian expats working in Dubai will eagerly work around obstacles to get Iran whatever they need.
  • Israel. Israelis don't have the capability to wipe out Iran's nuclear facilities and even if Israeli airstrikes are tactically successful, they'll only delay Iran's nuclear program, not destroy it. But the Israelis might make a different calculation. Their goal may not be to take out Iran's program altogether, but rather to dump the mess into the arms of the international community, i.e., the United States, saying: "Now you deal with this."
The Iran issue is going to become a major headache for Obama and is going to strengthen Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's argument that Iran's nuclear program, not West Bank settlements or the plight of the Palestinians, is the real crisis in the Middle East.
“It's going to put wind in the sails of neoconservatives and Republicans in Washington, who are all too eager to paint the U.S. president as weak and ineffectual when Tehran doesn't buckle. What is Barack going to do then? Bomb Iran himself and wreck his Middle East hopes? Let Iran go nuclear and turn the nonproliferation regime into a sick joke? Give sanctions "time to work" -- and consign a generation of Iranians to radicalism, growing ethnic strife, and crushing poverty?”

According to Mr. Hounshell, has President Obama really put pressure on Iran or is the pressure on him to get results that are beyond his ability to deliver? The G-20 announcement re-confirmed the non-credibility of Ahmadinejad. But the world is waiting to see if President Obama can develop a credible strategy to paint himself out of his “gotcha” announcement corner “..without reaching for the F-15s”.

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