Twenty years ago, President Reagan made this offhand remark: “I think it’s better if the Iranians go to bed every night wondering what we might do.'” The late Herbert Block drew a cartoon (click here or on thumbnail) showing a sleepless American, also wondering what we might do.
Maybe Bush and Cheney aren’t so different from Saint Ronnie after all.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Thursday that new sanctions against Iran will protect the international financial system from “the illicit activities of the Iranian government.”
The sanctions will “provide a powerful deterrent to every international bank and government that thinks of doing business with the Iranian government,” Rice said. …
… The idea is to cut Iran from the international financial system. U.S. sanctions could hurt because of the signal it sends to the rest of the world. The U.S. has put in its list three banks, in addition to the defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Revolutionary Guard Corps controls numerous businesses in Iran, including some in the oil sector. Specifically it means any assets these groups may have in the U.S. will be frozen and Americans can’t do business with them.
On the other side of the debate, Rice is playing defense and losing, according to experts who say sanctions only push the two countries into a situation where it will be harder for future administrations to deal with Iran.
The Bush administration’s decision Thursday to put new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and its elite Quds force is a calculated gamble intended to convince Iran’s leadership to behave better in Iraq and suspend uranium enrichment.
But the step could backfire by arousing a nationalist backlash in Iran and convincing the leadership there that the U.S. government is not interested in negotiations—only in squeezing the Iranian economy until its people rise up and overthrow the regime.
Unfortunately, the chances of regime change remain minimal while oil approaches $100 a barrel. Meanwhile, U.S. actions could eliminate whatever slim chance there is of a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program and its rising power in the Middle East.
With whom exactly is the United States supposed to negotiate such a solution? The Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, is a Quds force commander, according to Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military man in Iraq. Does that mean that U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker, who has met twice with Kazemi-Qomi, cannot speak to him again? Or just that Crocker can’t lend him money?
One man’s terrorist is another’s diplomat.
It’s a bit like watching a herd of buffalo stampede toward the brink of the Grand Canyon.
Rosa Brooks of the Los Angeles Times asks, “What’s a constitutional democracy to do when the president and vice president lose their marbles?”
We’re in the middle of a disastrous war in Iraq, the military and political situation in Afghanistan is steadily worsening, and the administration’s interrogation and detention tactics have inflamed anti-Americanism and fueled extremist movements around the globe. Sane people, confronting such a situation, do their best to tamp down tensions, rebuild shattered alliances, find common ground with hostile parties and give our military a little breathing space. But crazy people? They look around and decide it’s a great time to start another war.
That would be with Iran, and you’d have to be deaf not to hear the war drums. Last week, Bush remarked that “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III . . . you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” On Sunday, Cheney warned of “the Iranian regime’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East and to gain hegemonic power . . . [we] cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions.” On Tuesday, Bush insisted on the need “to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat.”
Huh? Iran is now a major threat to Europe? The Iranians are going to launch a nuclear missile (that they don’t yet possess) against Europe (for reasons unknown because, as far as we know, they’re not mad at anyone in Europe)? This is lunacy in action.
Writing in Newsweek on Oct. 20, Fareed Zakaria, a solid centrist and former editor of Foreign Affairs, put it best. Citing Bush’s invocation of “the specter of World War III if Iran gained even the knowledge needed to make a nuclear weapon,” Zakaria concluded that “the American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. . . . Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s. . . . It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are . . . allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?”
The thing is, we’ve gotten so used to an executive branch making no sense whatsoever that most of the country pays little attention. And if we did pay attention, how could we sleep at night?
Update: See also Crooks and Liars.