I have an article in the Guardian today about the bellicose rhetoric surrounding the Obama administration’s Iran sanctions policy. In addition to highlighting related policy recommendations from certain hawkish think tankers that regularly make Lobe Log’s “Hawks on Iran” posting, I was also able to interview Paul Pillar, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Hooman Majd and Hans Blix. Here’s how I begin:
The United States claims that sanctions against Iran are designed to convince it to change its behavior on a range of issues, but even the language used to describe them tells a different story. Sanctions are central to the Obama administration‘s “dual-track” strategy – explained as a combination of pressure and engagement intended to increase US leverage at the negotiating table. As Iranians struggle with increasingly “crippling” measures, advocates are justifying the resulting pain as the alternative to war.
No single influential figure has made war with Iran seem like a prospect more than Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, despite warnings against the dire ramifications from key Israeli and western security advisers. Yet it was Netanyahu who inspired more standing ovations during a May 2011 hardline speech to Congress (29 in total) than Obama did during his state of union address in January of that year, and it has been Congress that has been pushing forward the harshest measures against Iran.
While Obama criticized the “loose talk of war” that was rampant during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) conference in March, discussions of sanctions by the administration remain heavily focused on the punitive element – in response to ongoing pressure from Israel and a seemingly pro-Netanyahu Congress. Obama’s unwillingness to match his red line on Iran (acquirement of a nuclear weapon) with Netanyahu’s red line (acquirement of “breakout capability”) is a key reason why relations between the two leaders remain publicly cool. At the same time, the administration’s efforts to project an image of toughness toward the Islamic Republic significantly overshadow any displays of confidence-building diplomacy.