Tony Karon‘s story at Time how the Republican surge in the Congress will affect U.S. President Barack Obama’s Iran policy is well worth the read. He writes that while Obama is universally viewed as unlikely to attack Iran, the Republican House will make meaningful engagement difficult. (See Eli’s take on this subject.)
With the GOP set to be the the “Party of No” in Congress, compromise with Iran is almost out of the question. “And without compromise,” writes Karon, “a diplomatic solution remains unlikely.”
There’s no indication that the President or other key decision makers have abandoned their skepticism of a military solution to the standoff, based on an awareness that the consequences of starting a war could be more dangerous than any threat currently posed by Iran. But the Times reports that a debate is underway within the Administration over whether Obama should be amplifying the threat of military action if Iran remains defiant. The Administration’s Iran point-man, Dennis Ross, has made clear in his own writings on the matter that he believes Iran will only back down if it believes it faces a credible threat of military action. But there’s currently no legal basis for military action — all relevant U.N. resolutions have been carefully crafted to avoid giving the U.S. the loopholes used by the Bush Administration to claim legal authority for attacking Iraq — because most of those nations supporting sanctions remain resolutely opposed to military action. So threatening force could potentially break up whatever diplomatic consensus currently exists, and that would suit Iran.
But even if Obama is inclined to resist any temptation to rally a more hawkish post-election legislature by ratcheting up confrontation with Iran, he’ll find it even more difficult, after the election, to compromise with a regime so widely reviled on Capitol Hill. And without compromise, a diplomatic solution remains unlikely. […]
The fact that the Western powers lack consensus among themselves, much less with other key players such as Russia and China, on an acceptable compromise would only be a problem if there was any expectation of a breakthrough in the next round of talks. But neither side appears to be seeking one. For the U.S., the talks are an opportunity to send Iran a message that pressure will increase until Tehran is ready to yield; for Iran, the negotiations are an opportunity to make clear that it has no intention of backing down, confident it can ride out the sanctions and any other pressure the U.S. can plausibly muster.
The same stalemate persisted through the second term of George W. Bush’s Administration, and resulted in Iran crossing the threshold to become a nuclear-capable state by mastering enrichment. But Obama, under pressure from an even more hawkish and assertive Congress, is unlikely to have the luxury enjoyed by his predecessor of maintaining a passive hard line while Iran’s nuclear capacity grows.