Jamal Abdi: Now Is the Time for Democrats to Define An Alternate Iran Strategy

In his post on Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel today, National Iranian American Council (NIAC) policy director Jamal Abdi warns of the dangers inherent in a Republican takeover of Congress.

Abdi argues that Obama, under the Democratic Congress, failed to pursue a viable dual-track strategy — pressure and engagement — with Iran. Instead, the administration allowed success to be defined by the amount of sanctions related pressure it could impose on Iranian leadership and on ordinary Iranians.

Abdi writes (my emphasis):

The picture for Obama in Congress is bleak enough, but particularly so on Iran. Bipartisan Iran sanctions advanced in the Democratic Congress imposed significant new restrictions on the president and give the Republicans significant ammunition to undermine Obama. Opportunities to hold the president’s feet to the fire regarding enforcement of unilateral sanctions on China and Russia will not be ignored, and the president will be punished for failing to get “tough enough” on Iran, despite his many efforts to do just that. By failing to realign the metrics for success, and by allowing the outgoing Democratic Congress to undermine his political and policy flexibility, Obama and the Democrats in the 111th Congress have handed Republicans a valuable tool with which to bludgeon the president in the 112th.

Now, with an even more hawkish Republican Congress (Ali wrote about the hawkish rhetoric from Lindsey Graham this weekend), the administration will be charged with failing to unilaterally punish Russia and China for continuing to trade with Iran and will be accused of not getting “tough enough” on Iran. This, of course, comes from a Republican party which has openly discussed its support for an Israeli military strike on Iran — nearly fifty Republicans signed such a resolution last summer — and a policy towards Iran which is increasingly measured by the amount of damage that the U.S. can inflict on the Iranian economy.

Abdi concludes with a word of warning for Democrats who fail to define an alternate policy path from pro-war Republicans (my emphasis again):

In failing to establish any alternative criteria for progress on the Iran issue other than pressure, the administration risks continuing to perpetuate the Bush paradigm on Iran and accepting a measurement for success that, regardless of reality, only plays into the hands of Obama’s pro-war, anti-engagement opponents. It would be disastrous for Obama to embrace the 2002 Democratic foreign policy strategy, when they adopted a Bush-light approach and supported the Iraq war out of fear. It wasn’t until Democrats developed a strong message against the Iraq war in 2006 that they reclaimed Congress. And it wasn’t until a presidential candidate staked out his own paradigm and established his own political space through leadership on his anti Iraq-war principles that ultimately a Democrat reclaimed the White House.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.


One Comment

  1. We must conclude that the parties (D&R) have concluded that foreign policy is beyond the average American voter. I’ve long wondered why Dems don’t/didn’t pursue a more nuanced position toward Israel–playing on the divides between Kadima/Labor and Likud oriented parties. It seems most Jews would support this, this would be a moderate voice relative to the Mil/Ind/Cong/Complex. But alas, there is little to no daylight between the two parties. (In 2004 Labor had the upper hand over Likud; with BB in the PM chair, this makes less sense–though this could change in 18 mos.

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