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The Race for Iran

CHINA IS NOT ON BOARD FOR SERIOUS SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN

In the midst of its Nuclear Security Summit and in the wake of President Obama’s bilateral meeting with China’s President Hu yesterday, the Obama Administration is vigorously spinning the U.S. and Western media that it has won Chinese support for new sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear activities.  To say the least, this is an exaggeration on the Obama Administration’s part, and wholly unreflective reporting on the part of those journalists who repeated the exaggeration without question or context. 

In fact, China had agreed—even before President Hu arrived in Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit—to participate in discussions with other United Nations Security Council members about potential new sanctions against Iran.  However, China is already indicating that some of the tougher measures still included in the U.S.-supported draft resolution are unacceptable, from Beijing’s perspective.  In particular, China has explicitly rejected a proposed ban on new investments in the Islamic Republic’s energy sector.  Official Chinese press reports indicate that, in his meeting with President Obama, President Hu maintained Beijing’s position that the Iranian nuclear issue should be resolved “through dialogue and negotiations”.  In terms of specific commitments, according to these reports, Hu said only that China “stands ready to maintain consultation and coordination with the United States and other parties”.   

China’s fundamental calculus about the Iranian nuclear issue has not changed because of representations from senior Obama Administration officials, or even from President Obama himself.  We have written frequently and extensively about this, both on www.TheRaceForIran.com and elsewhere.  Given trends in the Western media coverage of the Obama-Hu meeting yesterday, two key points bear reiteration here. 

–Beijing may ultimately acquiesce (perhaps by abstaining, rather than through an affirmative vote) to a new sanctions resolution in the Security Council—among other reasons, to keep the Iranian nuclear issue in the Council, where, as a permanent member, China has considerable influence and to maintain comity in Sino-American relations.  Considerations of this sort explain China’s repeated decisions ultimately to participate directly in discussions with other Security Council members about potential new sanctions against Iran. 

–At the same time, though, Beijing will not acquiesce to sanctions against the Islamic Republic that would harm what Chinese leaders see as fundamental economic, energy, and strategic interests.  Since 2006, Beijing has supported three sanctions resolutions against Iran.  But, it has worked in the Security Council (as has Russia) to ensure that any sanctions actually authorized by the Council would not impede China’s pursuit of its most important interests in Iran.  This explains China’s opposition to a ban on new investments in Iran’s energy sector—which is also not new, but has been a consistent element in China’s position regarding anti-Iranian sanctions. 

According to David Sanger of The New York Times, Administration officials say that, in order to win China’s support, “Mr. Obama assured Mr. Hu that he was ‘sensitive to China’s energy needs’ and would work to make sure that Beijing had a steady supply of oil if Iran cut China off in retaliation for joining in severe sanctions”.  But, as we have been arguing since the Administration first broached this idea over a year ago, China’s interests are not simplistically focused on assuring some aggregate volume of oil imports.  China’s interests vis-à-vis Iran include diversifying its oil suppliers (in the Persian Gulf and in other regions), securing upstream equity positions for Chinese energy companies (something that can happen in Iran but virtually nowhere else in the Gulf), and strategic cooperation with Tehran on a range of issues.  Beijing is not about to abandon those interests just because Washington wants it to do so. 

Diplomats from a number of countries have told us that the Obama Administration may ultimately settle for language in a new sanctions resolution that would not require states to adhere to a ban on new investments in Iran’s energy sector or to other relatively “tough” measures, but would provide sufficient legal foundation for individual states to decide, on their own, to implement such measures.  The Administration calculates that, on this basis, it could assemble a largely Western “coalition of like-minded” nations to impose “crippling” sanctions on Iran, without having to include more reluctant powers such as China and Russia. 

Let’s see if we’ve gotten this straight:  China is the only major economic power in the world that is willing to undertake major new investments in Iran right now.  The Obama Administration wants all of the Western countries that might, at least in theory, compete with China for investment opportunities in Iran’s energy sector to sign up to legally binding restrictions on their pursuit of such opportunities.  And, if this scenario plays out, the Obama Administration will claim it as a great “victory” for American diplomacy—even though this victory will mean nothing except that China is effectively guaranteed a monopoly on large-scale investment opportunities for foreign companies in Iran’s energy sector for the foreseeable future

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

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24 Responses to “CHINA IS NOT ON BOARD FOR SERIOUS SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN”

  1. James Canning says:

    Kathleen,

    Great post. Reporters need to bring up the issue of Israel’s refusal to sign the NPT every chance that appears. Maybe one should have the sense to ask Obama why his people are trying to discourage attendance at the Tehran conference next week on ways to work toward eliminating nuclear weapons globally.

  2. James Canning says:

    Let’s remember the stupidity – - if one is kind – - of the Bush administration, in spurning offers of help from Iran and Syria to achieve stability in Iraq and enable smooth withdrawal of US forces. This stupidity – - to be kind – - caused the squandering of hundreds of billions of dollars! And the pouring of scores of billions down the Iraq War rathole continues.

  3. James Canning says:

    Dan Cooper,

    Great post (9:43pm)! Ahmadinejad obviously is quite right, that stability in Afghanistan cannot be achieve without substanial help from Iran. But Bob Gates will not mention that fact to the American people. Nor will Hillary Clinton. What a spectacle, when the senior political leadership of the US in matters for foreign policy and military affaris, either think it is imperative to continue to deceive the public – - or they are actually too incompetent to recognize Iran is an essential part of the solution AND NOT THE PROBLEM.

  4. James Canning says:

    Fiorangela,

    Another great post! Is Franks just a stooge of the Israeli militarists, and the fanatical Jews trying to steal the West Bank from the Palestinians? Or is he a stooge of the armaments manufacturers, who benefit from deception of the American people about what “threats” actuall exist?

  5. Fiorangela Leone says:

    Alan – if the remarks of both Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Sen. Mark Begich (D-AL) on C-Span/Washington Journal this morning are any indication, Obama faces serious opposition not only from Israel lobby direct pressures on the administration but also from congress.

    Franks is fiercely ideological and woefully uninformed — a frightening combination in a representative of the people who sits on the House Armed Services committee. To their credit, callers who responded to Franks during his C Span interview pointed out the flaws in his assertions; to my distress, Franks only redoubled the passion with which he declared that “Iran’s leaders are crazed,” and “Iran is the world’s greatest terror threat.” Franks stated “there are only three options: Iran with a nuclear weapon, sanctions, or a military attack on Iran. Franks advocates for military attack, but stated that very shortly his committee will consider legislation to increase sanctions on Iranian banks and gas/oil trade, and will make it clear to other nations that “they can trade with the US or they can trade with Iran, but they can’t do both.”

    The US legislature seems to have found elusive bipartisanship where Iran is concerned. Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich spoke in less rabid tones, but did not appear to have a perspective on Iran that was appreciably different from that of Trent Franks.

    I emailed a question to C Span, asking that their moderator find out from Franks where he gets his information about Iran, who his sources are, what information he has about Iran that the American people are entitled to know and that is so compelling that he is able to advocate for military action against Iran. C Span did not ask these questions.

  6. Alan says:

    Eric – I think your strategy needs to take account of Israel and the Lobby. Israel will crank up the threats and rhetoric to counter any Obama efforts to surreptitiously wind them down. There is enough fear and opacity over Iran in the West for Israel to exploit mercilessly. I think Obama needs a clear demonstration of how easy it can be to do business with Iran and Iranians in order to strike a significant blow against the stereotypes held in the US. This would isolate Israel and expose their machinations as directly opposing US interests.

    I agree a TRR deal could do that, but I don’t see how a TRR deal can be done while a sanctions drive is maintained. It seems to me the sanctions drive will need to be dropped for any progress to be made here, so a formula needs to be found to do both simultaneously. Such a formula could not include more intrusive inspections either; Iran would only ever agree to that in response to confirmation of Iran’s right to enrich uranium and the Iran nuclear file being dismissed by the UNSC.

    So, I agree things will take time, and can change dramatically over time, but I think a reasonably big breakthrough will be necessary at the front end to kick it off.

  7. Nader Hobballah says:

    I think this basically sums up the situation:
    http://episthemologie.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/reality.jpg

  8. Dan Cooper says:

    Ahmadinejad sends letter to Obama

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that he has sent a letter to US President Barack Obama, the contents of which will be made public in the near future.

    Ahmadinejad made the announcement in an interview televised live on Channel One of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting on Tuesday night.

    He said that Iran is the “only chance” for Obama to realize his change motto.

    “What formula can he propose to make any development in Palestine that could be considered a victory for him and could strengthen his position in the US?” Ahmadinejad asked.

    “He can’t do anything in Iraq or Afghanistan either because the situation is so complicated there that he can’t create a tangible change there that could be considered a victory,” IRNA quoted the Iranian president as saying.

    Ahmadinejad also noted that Obama will not be able to improve the US economy through a miracle.

    “Obama only has one way to tell the world that he has created change, and that is Iran,” he stated.

    Ahmadinejad urged Obama to seize the opportunity and to desist from threatening Iran, saying, “The era that they assumed that they could damage Iran is over.”

    “Thank God, no one can damage the Iranian nation any longer,” he added.

    Ahmadinejad went on to say that Iran does not want confrontation and is seeking cooperation and negotiation with others.

    http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=123237&sectionid=351020101

  9. Dan Cooper says:

    Obama issued a dire warning:

    We must stop terrorist groups trying to obtain nuclear weapons

    However, he is letting a “terrorist state” in the Middle East to keep more than 200 illegal nuclear weapons.

    During the past 62 years, “Israel” has proven that it has no regards for human life and is willing to use nuclear weapon.

  10. Eric A. Brill says:

    James Canning,

    “The US should have normal relations with Iran. Period. Full stop.”

    I agree. It should. But merely pointing out how sensible it is won’t make it happen. What’s needed is some way to get there.

  11. James Canning says:

    Eric A. Brill,

    Franklin Roosevelt sent Bill Bullitt to be the first US ambassador to the USSR. That was in the 1930s. How preposterous the US has not reopened its embassy in Tehran! Stupidity almost beyond belief. I say “almost” purposefully.

    The US should have normal relations with Iran. Period. Full stop. Those who argue to the contrary are foolish. One recalls the childish US foreign policy toward Cuba.

  12. Eric A. Brill says:

    James Canning:

    “Does Hillary Clinton provide “cover” for Ross’ efforts to subvert the government of Iran?”

    Either she or Obama, or both.

  13. Eric A. Brill says:

    Fiorangela,

    “Eric, you analyzed containment relative to US-Soviet conflict; what I believe/fear the Obama administration has in mind is Iraqi-style containment which is not really containment at all, it’s softening up.”

    I acknowledge that the “containment” the US has (or may have) in mind now for Iran is not the US-Soviet Cold War form. My point is that, with time and focused effort, it might be transformed into something very close to that, with the same ultimately peaceful result.

    Opposing a policy of “containment” now (whatever that means) would be dangerous because that would leave no attractive alternative: in my view, a Leverettian grand bargain is simply not feasible (or, if it is, nobody with authority believes it is, which amounts to the same thing) and that’s not likely to change any time soon, and so (the usual suspects would argue) a military strike would be the only way left to “solve” the “Iran problem.” Thus, one might as well side (or appear to side) with the “containment” crowd and then try hard to:

    (1) slow down the pace of the containment effort; and

    (2) gradually water down the harsh content of “containment” so that a peaceful US/Iran relationship can be established that could last for a long time.

    As WigWag wisely notes, what some call “containment” may amount to nothing more than a brief and insincere “goodness knows we’ve tried everything else” prelude to a bombing run on downtown Tehran. But that risk might be reduced (not eliminated) by larding the concept (“containment”) with a number of elements whose effects can’t be measured in the short term, and by steering clear of deadlines or other ultimatums. For example, if (using Iraq as an example) “containment” is nothing more than blunt economic sanctions coupled with a High Noon demand that Iraq (1) pull out of Kuwait by January 15, 1991; or (2) turn over Saddam Hussein and his sons by March 18, 2003, it’s very difficult for a President not to terminate the “containment” effort and fire up the bombers the moment those deadlines arrive. Suppose instead that we purposefully stroke the egos of the “containment” meisters by ascribing to them such brilliance that we mere mortals can barely discern the outlines of their policy’s many subtle forms. If human vanity takes its usual course, they’ll promptly think up even more of those subtle forms, thus ensuring that our assessment of their brilliance is unquestionably warranted – multi-pronged efforts at regime change (support for terrorist groups, Greens, other reformists; challenges to the legitimacy of elections, other de-legitimizing propaganda); more comprehensive and targeted economic sanctions; diplomatic pressure on countries that deal with Iran; ratcheting-up of obstacles to Iran’s nuclear program; and so on). The more the merrier; we would cheer them on. The effectiveness of this bulked-up “containment package” would be much harder to measure than the “get out of town by sundown” version we used in Iraq, much harder to declare a certain failure that must give way to a military strike. And during this much-extended measurement period, the ego-stroked “containment” meisters undoubtedly would seek to calm restless doubters by assuring us that all is proceeding exactly according to their brilliant plan, that Iran’s collapse is just around the corner. Any President with a self-respecting spin doctor could, if he chose to, stretch out such a broad and complex containment program for years, maybe decades (just like we did with the Soviet Union).

    While such a containment effort proceeds at its leisurely pace, more and more Americans might notice that the world has not ended in the meantime, that Iran has not begun work on a bomb (though that had indeed better be the case) — and even that, one hopes, the two countries have found some little ways to cooperate affirmatively (such as I’ve suggested in earlier posts). It may even persist (as in “almost certainly would persist”) long enough for good old-fashioned profit-lust to enter the picture, ensuring that the exercise continues even longer. It probably would not be long, for example, before large US companies start grumbling about how all the big investment deals are going to Chinese companies at healthy profit margins (because they have no Western competition, as the Leveretts note), in which case the US government might see its way clear to relax the “containment” a bit by arranging for US companies to compete for some of Iran’s idle funds. Before you know it, Iran and the US could be getting along just like any other two countries that can’t stand each other but nevertheless don’t believe their antagonistic but profitable relationship requires a definitive resolution by war, grand bargain or any other means.

    This is not only what I think can happen; it’s what I am fairly confident will happen. Though recent history suggests otherwise (Iraq 1991, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003), I seriously doubt that either Obama or whoever succeeds him will believe it is in his best interests (or America’s best interest, on the off-chance that that concern elbows its way into his thinking) to charge off to war with Iran. My suggested approach would allow the President to fuzz it up for a good long while, until the situation defuses itself over time as I’ve predicted above.

  14. Kathleen says:

    here is the link
    The Diane Rehm Show covers the Obama Nuclear Summit Joseph Cirincione Contradicts Himself On Israel’s Nukes
    http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/40717

  15. Kathleen says:

    “However, China is already indicating that some of the tougher measures still included in the U.S.-supported draft resolution are unacceptable, from Beijing’s perspective. In particular, China has explicitly rejected a proposed ban on new investments in the Islamic Republic’s energy sector. Official Chinese press reports indicate that, in his meeting with President Obama, President Hu maintained Beijing’s position that the Iranian nuclear issue should be resolved “through dialogue and negotiations””.

    Unless I missed it I did not hear anything like this come up at the Obama press conference after the Summit. Did not hear anyone ask about whether China is on board or not.

    Did hear one reporter come out and ask whether the Obama administration will put any pressure on Israel to sign the NPT. Obama flipped the question into we want all nations to sign onto the NPT. His answer avoided the direct question but have to admit so smooth

    The Diane Rehm Show covers the Obama Nuclear Summit Joseph Cirincione Contradicts Himself On Israel’s Nukes
    http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/40721

  16. James Canning says:

    Charles Dearlove II,

    Important point. Kissinger, it must be noted once again, ignored Leonid Brezhnev’s pleas that the US pressure Israel to get out of the Sinai, right through 1973. The Soviet leader said failure to get the Israelis out will mean a dangerous war. Kissinger worried the Soviet Union would get too much credit and prestige as a result! So the world got a totally preventable war! That nearly set off a much larger war.

  17. James Canning says:

    Fiorangela,

    Great post, putting the finger on Dennis Ross’ seriously bad judgment. And to think he tries to run Iran policy out of the White House! Let’s put an arsonist in charge of the hay stables!

    The question presented here, is: Does Hillary Clinton provide “cover” for Ross’ efforts to subvert the government of Iran? If so, is Hillary a stooge of the Iranophobes and other warmongers?

  18. Charles Dearlove II says:

    The policy is coming from Kissinger, as ever; as Jim Jones recently told congress.

    Important here, I believe, is Kissinger’s obsessive paranoia about presumed weakness: See his writings in the Washington Post on Iran from 2006 to the present.

  19. Fiorangela Leone says:

    Eric, you analyzed containment relative to US-Soviet conflict; what I believe/fear the Obama administration has in mind is Iraqi-style containment which is not really containment at all, it’s softening up.

    Obama never intended anything else toward Iran.

    His vaunted speech at Cairo was delivered on June 4, 2009. On July 6, 2009, he gathered with G-8 in Aquila, Italy, and announced to them that a nuclear summit would be held in March 2010. Iran would not be included. One month after “extending the hand of friendship,” Obama announced the pending initiation of ‘containment’ of Iran.

    But the plans were laid even earlier than that: in Sept 2008 Center for New American Security published a report written by James Miller, Christine Parthemore and Kurt Campbell but to which the redoubtable Dennis Ross, as well as Vali Nasr and Suzanne Malone, contributed. http://www.cnas.org/files/documents/publications/MillerParthemoreCampbell_Iran%20Assessing%20US%20Strategy_Sept08.pdf

    The main thesis of the report is the ‘game-changing’ notion (the ‘gotcha’ ploy):

    “Game-changing diplomacy is not a favor to Iranian hard-liners. Indeed it is intended to advance U.S. interests and

    ***present Iranian hard-liners with a dilemma: if they accept a reasonable proposal from the United States and the West, they will empower moderates within Iran. If they do not, they will increasingly distance themselves from the Iranian people, undercutting the fundamental basis of their power and raising the prospects for internal regime change over time.***

    The most critical American negotiations for game-changing diplomacy are not with the Iranians, but with our friends and allies in the region and in Europe. It is imperative that the security interests and perspectives of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and others in the region be taken into account, and equally important that NATO allies France, Germany, and the United Kingdom support a change in strategy toward Iran. Maintaining Chinese and Russian support will also be important, particularly if Iran does not fully cooperate.”"

    The goal of game-changing is to persuade — or compel — Iran to renounce uranium enrichment; in other words, the problem that Iran presents to the world is that Iran is pursuing nuclear activities that it is fully entitled to pursue under the terms of the NPT.

    The interests sought to be protected by entrapping Iran into renouncing a right it is entitled to possess are these:

    “Iran’s nuclear program directly affects four broad U.S. national interests:
    ~stemming nuclear proliferation;
    ~combating international terrorism including reducing the prospects for catastrophic attacks on the United States;
    ~enhancing stability in the Middle East; and
    ~reestablishing America’s position of global leadership.”

    In implementing game-changing “It is imperative that the security interests and perspectives of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and others in the region be taken into account.”

    The CNAS document is a study in incoherence, as are Obama administration dealings with China, among others.

    I’m just a housewife; I don’t do foreign policy analysis from any basis other than what seems to make common sense and conform to basic values — the universally applicable Golden Rule.
    If the Obama administration — and the Miller Parthemore group — wish to achieve stability in the Middle East, why are they poking a stick in the eye of the key to that stability?
    Miller Parthemore open their discussion with the declaration that:

    “Iran is flaunting the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), supporting terrorism, threatening U.S. friends and allies, and providing weapons in Iraq that have killed American soldiers.”

    These are not factually supportable assertions — they are lies. How can the US “reestablish its position of global leadership” when its calculations are based on untruths? Iranians invented algebra and know misaligned bones when they see them; does CNAS?

    Obama’s math, too, is contorted: One presumes — hopes — that Obama recognizes that the people of the US are chafing under economic uncertainty, unemployment, and rising energy prices; to properly serve American interests, supplies of oil and gas should be protected. So what sense does it make for Obama to not only constrict Iran’s ability to supply oil to world markets, especially hungry China, but to promise China that he will supply their needs from other sources. Are there hidden agendas at work? Has Obama promised Russia or Saudi Arabia a greater share of the China market in exchange for Saudi Arabia investing more heavily in US equities or bonds? Because it does not make sense to me that the world supply of oil would be enhanced by forcing Iranians to water their deserts with their oil rather than sell it in fair and honest markets.

  20. Eric A. Brill says:

    It might help to clarify what one means by “containment.” Hillary Mann Leverett, in response to a question from Charlie Rose, defined “containment” (which she described as the Washington establishment’s currently preferred approach to Iran) in rather harsh terms as “diplomatic isolation, economic [isolation].” Flynt Leverett added that this dominant view of “containment” of Iran includes support for terrorist and other efforts to overthrow the current regime. It seemed to me that Hillary and/or Flynt would have added a few more harsh components to the definition if Charlie Rose hadn’t steered the conversation elsewhere.

    When one defines “containment” to include such distasteful elements (and I don’t mean to dispute that that indeed is how the Washington establishment currently defines it), it certainly does look like an approach that could lead to some sort of blowup in the not-too-distant future, just as the Leveretts warn. That being so, they argue, the better choice is a “grand bargain” with Iran that fundamentally re-aligns the relationship between the US and Iran. But I think they present a false choice; there’s a third (and better) alternative; its most attractive feature is that it could actually work.

    As the Leveretts note, any hope for a grand bargain will require some preliminary changes in US behavior, good faith gestures such as cessation of support for groups trying to overthrow the Iranian government. They cite, as an example to be imitated, the US’ withdrawal of CIA support for covert operations in Tibet shortly before Nixon’s trip to China. Unfortunately, the chances of the US making any such good-faith gestures are presently very slim to none. Iran is not becoming more popular among Americans these days. Quite the contrary. The US has budgeted $400 million a year to promote “regime change,” after all. Is that budget likely to get cut any time soon? A double amputee can count the votes for that on his fingers and toes. The career of any administration official, Congressman or Senator (or President) who even suggested a reduction in that effort would have a half-life shorter than Technetium-90.

    On the other hand, it’s worth bearing clearly in mind that “containment” was not defined in such harsh terms when that strategy was applied to the Soviet Union for several decades, with ultimate success. Certainly the US didn’t trade with the Soviet Union very much, made efforts now and then to isolate the Russians diplomatically, and even made some clumsy covert efforts to overthrow the Evil Empire (or at least Hollywood believes that happened). But all that added up to much less harsh treatment than is meant by “containment” as it’s currently applied to Iran. And because it added up to much less harsh treatment, it could be and was sustained for a long time without leading to a blow-up.

    So why not simply give up on any “grand bargain” and (appear to) buy into the “containment” approach that, as the Leveretts acknowledge, is the prevalent view in Washington anyway? Accept – and urge others to accept — that the “solution” to the “Iran problem” will take a lot of time and patience. Whenever and however possible, dial down the urgency, and gradually soften and chip away at the actual elements of this “containment” strategy so that it evolves into a modus vivendi that can continue for a good long while without a serious risk of blow-up. The harshness will almost inevitably ease each year as the US and other countries come to appreciate (1) almost certainly, the ever-diminishing extent of US power; and (2) probably, the absence of an existential threat from Iran.

    Little opportunities for ice-breaking cooperation pop up all the time, even today. For example, both sides might seize the opportunity presented by Iran’s very recent support of more Sunni involvement in the Iraq government. Maybe toss in a “hostage” exchange (say, American hikers in Iran for Iranian diplomats in Iraq), and voila: a small-ball deal that makes the leaders of both countries look effective. Then maybe some clever fuel-swap deal, coupled with much more intrusive IAEA inspections or earlier-disclosure commitments from Iran -– yet another little “win-win,” yet another deal that, unlike a “grand bargain,” can actually get done. Before you know it, “containment” won’t look anything at all like Hillary’s definition of it; it will evolve into nothing more than a minor annoyance for Iran, and even less than that when one considers that Iran probably will find a work-around (aka Dubai) for most of the few practical restrictions that end up being left. Nor will the need for extreme “containment” seem all that important to the “container” (the US), which could lead to further softening.

    In short, a “grand bargain” is not going to happen any time soon, and yet the Leveretts are probably right that an extreme “containment” approach (such as Hillary defines it) poses a considerable and unnecessary risk of war. The “dial it down” version of a “containment” policy is safer, feasible and likely to succeed.

  21. James Canning says:

    WigWag,

    The Saudis do not want a new war in the Gulf. Nor do the Qataris. Nor the Kuwaitis. China is not solely pursuing “Chinese” interests, when it opposes more foolish sanctions.

  22. James Canning says:

    Bravo for China! Russia and China have shown the sanctions already in place do not deter Iran from pursuing its legitimate nuclear power programme. And they interfere with diplomacy.

  23. Eric A. Brill says:

    “Can you think of a less hospitable approach to inviting an adversary to discuss a grand bargain than informing them and the rest of the world that they are one of the few nations on earth that the United States might launch a nuclear first strike against?”

    No.

  24. WigWag says:

    The Leveretts are right. China will never agree to crippling sanctions on Iran that threaten Chinese interests. All the spinning by the Obama Administration won’t change that and neither will the extraordinarily sloppy reporting of a credulous media. Any sanctions regime that the Chinese (and Russians) eventually support will be so porous that the idea that Iranian nuclear aspirations will be deterred is simply laughable.

    But all of this assumes that Obama is seeking a sanctions resolution because he really believes that sanctions will modulate Iran’s behavior. While our President may be an egotistical narcissist, there’s little evidence that he’s actually stupid.

    Surely Obama understands that sanctions won’t achieve his desired end; everyone knows it. Sanctions serve only two purposes: (1) Obama may have concluded that an Iranian nuclear weapon is inevitable and that the most appropriate option is to contain Iran. The Leveretts may or may not be right that a containment strategy will eventually lead to a war between Iran and the United States. If it’s containment that he’s resigned to, sanctions are purely a political ploy. Sanctions allow Obama to tell the American public (which all polls show detests Iran) that he is doing something serious. Obama’s calculation is that this ploy will be enough to placate the public and get him reelected. Once he’s in his second term, if Iran does indeed acquire nuclear weapons, Obama can report that he’s going to “plan b” which will be a deterrence policy based on containment. Regardless of how skeptical Americans may or may not be at this outcome, Obama will be safely in his second term and it will be future Democratic candidates not him who have to pay the price.

    (2) The other rationale for sanctions is to justify an American strike against Iran. To build support for a strike, Obama has to demonstrate that he’s tried something less belligerent first. While they aren’t friendly, sanctions are far less hostile than precision bombs blowing up nuclear installations, Revolutionary Guard barracks and the homes of Iranian political leaders.

    If Obama is considering a military campaign against Iran he needs to do sanctions first; that’s precisely what he’s doing. If this is what Obama is thinking, whether this sanctions regime has teeth is quite besides the point; the most mild sanctions will do fine as long as they permit Obama to say, “I didn’t want to unleash the B-52s or the B-1s but sanctions didn’t work.”

    As for the Leveretts preferred approach, engaging Iran with an eye towards a grand bargain, everyone of consequence in Washington has said “sayonara” to that strategy months ago, including President Obama.

    Can you think of a less hospitable approach to inviting an adversary to discuss a grand bargain than informing them and the rest of the world that they are one of the few nations on earth that the United States might launch a nuclear first strike against?

    The Leveretts may be serial exaggerators, but to their credit, they’re indefatigable. Still, one has to wonder how many different ways the Leveretts can make the exact same argument on their blog over and over again.

    The Leveretts know all of this. Why do they keep writing posts that tell us that serious sanctions won’t be imposed and that even if they were, those sanctions wouldn’t work?

    And the Leveretts also know that their “grand bargain” has been dead and buried for months; that is if it ever existed as a realistic possibility to begin with.