In Al Jazeera English I examine how the existence of “two schools of thought” in the Obama administration regarding its Iran policy (something that Lobe Log has been tracking) is causing media confusion and poor results. Here’s an excerpt:
- Jamal Abdi, policy director of the National Iranian American Council, tweeted after the final headline change that with anonymous sourcing “one person can shift the entire policy (or at least perception of that policy)”. Furthermore, even if intelligence officials do not determine policy, they can certainly influence it.
During a phone conversation he told me that the “cat is now out of the bag” about the aim of some administration members who want to steer Obama’s Iran policy. Abdi said that this event, coupled with spokeperson Victoria Nuland’s declaration last week that the US’ latest sanctions against Iran “will be an important next step in the global effort to tighten the noose on their regime”, suggests two schools of thought exist in the Obama administration:
The policy laid out by the president when he took office, which officially remains the administration’s policy, is aimed at achieving a diplomatic resolution with Iran based on shared interests. But a second school of thought persists, largely a continuation of the Bush Administration policy, that the US can only deal with a different regime in Iran.
He also noted that public revelations which make it appear like some in the administration view regime change as the objective of the sanctions “puts the president in a box”, making it “far more difficult now to convince Tehran to come to the table” and effectively “kneecapping the diplomatic option just weeks before expected talks”.
Former intelligence official Paul Pillar reflected on the counter-productive path of Obama’s Iran policy in December when he noted that the US “has made it almost impossible for Iran to say yes to whatever it is the United States is supposedly demanding of Iran”.
If the intent is to bring Iran to the negotiating table to change its nuclear ambitions, there should be an understanding that the pressure will be lifted if Iran concedes to US demands. But “[w]e seem to have lost sight of what all those sanctions and pressure were supposed to achieve in the first place”, wrote Pillar. “They have come to be treated as if they were ends in themselves.”
Jasmine, I wish you would analyze the commentary by Dennis Ross couple of days ago. His main point is that Obama is willing to attack Iran. It seems like the rope that is being tightened is not on Iran’s neck but Obama’s. Did Ross resign from the administration so that he can play the AIPAC script, i.e. say things that he couldn’s say while he was an insider. A game of chess is being played here, and the chessmate is in the horizon.
Ross’s statement seems mild given that Obama and current administration officials have always said they’d be willing to attack Iran; Panetta and Dempsey said the same thing on Face the nation lsat week. More significant is Kroneig openly advocating for it in Foreign Affairs. Given Ross and Kroneig’s statements, I think Ross is probably acting less on behalf of AIPAC than the administration. It will be telling to see if Colin Kahl follows Ross and Kroneig’s precedent.
For my own two cents, I’d be interested to see some reporting on who exactly is the administration’s lead person on Iran with all the personnel changes. This sloppy messaging is probably due in no small part to these changes. For instance, while everyone has noted Clinton and others categorically denying US role in assassination attempt, no one is reference the administration’s first response to the incident conveyed by Victoria Nuland during the daily press briefing on Wednesday, which was that the administration “strongly condemns” the attack but that she wasn’t “willing to speak one way or another” on whether the U.S. had played a role in the attack, as Iran’s media was reporting. It was one of the most bizarre responses and the press corps refused to accept it for a good five minutes by hammering in how illogical the two statements were together for five minutes. Still Nuland just saying while the administration condems the attack she is not willing to say whether it denies US involvement in them.
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