Monday, June 17, 2013

We Need A Nobel Peace Prize Winner In The White House-- One Who Earned The Award


No one knows exactly why Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize before he had done anything other than run for president as a vaguely pro-peace candidate, unless it was just the Nobel committee trying to express their relief that Bush was out of the White House. I wonder how embarrassed they are about their selection now?

So what's new on the peace front? Well... Iran sent 4,000 Revolutionary Guard troops to Syria to bolster Assad. And Putin warned David Cameron that arming the Syrian rebels would be a mistake.
Putin, who has made no secret of his opposition to US president Barack Obama's plans to send arms to the rebels, was unsparing when he was asked about previous comments by Cameron that those who armed the regime had "the blood of the children of Syria" on their hands.

"The blood is on the hands of both parties. There is always a question as to who is to blame for that. One should hardly back those who kill their enemies and eat their organs," he said, referring to an incident when a rebel fighter was filmed taking a bite out of an organ he had cut out of the body of a dead Syrian soldier.

"It is hardly in relation to the humanitarian and cultural values Europe has been professing for centuries."

Putin has also reacted sceptically to evidence produced by Britain, France and the US that the regime has used chemical weapons-- crossing Obama's "red line" for intervention.
And mixed up, sleazy little closet case Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was on Meet the Press (above) demanding Obama use cruise missiles to establish a No Fly Zone. But in the midst of all this dangerous war-talk, the Iranian people elected-- and pretty overwhelmingly-- a man who professes to be a moderate and who says he wants to establish normal relations with the West. Will Obama's response by a No Fly Zone? Vali Nasr at Foreign Policy thinks it would be a tragic missed opportunity if Obama does follow the clueless advice he's getting from Lindsey Graham, John McCain and other warmongers and Likudniks in Congress.
There is cautious optimism that popular support for moderation at the polls will translate into concessions at the negotiating table. Rowhani sent clear signals during the presidential campaign that if elected he would seek to end Iran's international isolation. Favoring engagement over resistance, he said, "We have no other option than moderation." That may well be the case, but a nuclear deal is still far from certain, and in fact this June surprise could confound U.S. strategy in dealing with Iran.

...The dilemma for Washington is that, as a reformist, Rowhani is an outsider, weaker than Ahmadinejad when it comes to selling any compromise with the West to Iran's suspicious conservative establishment. Rowhani's electoral mandate gives him room to maneuver, but that is not enough to shield him from the backlash that would follow any rebuff at the negotiating table. So he will likely wait for a signal of American willingness to make serious concessions before he risks compromise.

For the past eight years, U.S. policy has relied on pressure-- threats of war and international economic sanctions-- rather than incentives to change Iran's calculus. Continuing with that approach will be counterproductive. It will not provide Rowhani with the cover for a fresh approach to nuclear talks, and it could undermine the reformists generally by showing they cannot do better than conservatives on the nuclear issue.

Washington must realize that its success in rallying the international community to isolate Iran was due in no small part to Ahmadinejad's bombastic style. In denying the Holocaust, calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, and deliberately ratcheting up tensions with the West, he made it easy to paint Iran as an existential threat to Israel and a menace to the international community. Washington will find it difficult to make the same case when Iran has elected a reformist president who has publicly repudiated his predecessor. Nor will the United States be able to as easily threaten war-- or inflict economic pain-- on a country where half the population has voted for positive change.

Rowhani's victory is not regime change in Iran-- but it is a game-changer. The supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guards continue to control all the levers of power. However, the election result has altered the face of Iran, enough to put to question the continued viability of American policy. There is now both the opportunity and the expectation that Washington will adopt a new approach to strengthen reformists and give Rowhani the opening that he needs if he is to successfully argue the case for a deal with the P5+1.

Since 2009, the Obama administration has relied on economic sanctions-- backed by veiled threat of war-- to get Iran to agree to a nuclear deal. It has offered Iran little in exchange for giving up its nuclear program, in effect hoping that Iran would capitulate. No Iranian president, conservative or reformist, would accept that outcome, or survive the political firestorm it would unleash at home.

To take advantage of Rowhani's victory and break the logjam over nuclear negotiations, Washington has to put on the table incentives it has thus far been unwilling to contemplate. It will have to offer Iran sanctions relief in exchange for agreeing to Western demands. At a minimum, the United States would like Iran to accept IAEA demands for intrusive inspection of its nuclear facilities; cap its uranium enrichment at 5 percent, and ship out of the country its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent. Iran in turn wants a formal recognition of its right to enrich uranium and, more immediately, the lifting of crippling sanctions on its financial institutions and oil exports. Ahmadinejad is faulted in Iran for wrecking the country's economy. Populism, mismanagement, and international isolation have combined to put Iran's economy into a downward spiral. Between 2009 and 2013, real GDP growth has fallen from 4 percent to 0.4 percent, unemployment has risen to 17 percent, and inflation has grown to 22 percent-- and those are official numbers, which tend to downplay the gravity of the economic crisis. It is estimated that 40 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line. Reformists will grow in strength if they are able to show that they can reverse that trend by at least getting the West for the first time to offer negotiating away specific sanctions.

The Obama administration has spurned the possibility of sanctions relief because escalating economic pressure on Iran is popular in America, while the appearance of conceding to Iran is not. The White House, which has tightly controlled Iran policy, has thus far seen serious diplomacy with Iran as politically dangerous-- a risky gambit with a low chance of success and a high cost for failure. President Obama does not want confrontation with Iran, but he has also been unwilling to assume the risk -- and spend the necessary political capital with Congress and the American public-- to pursue a diplomatic strategy. Staying the course-- relying on economic sanctions under the guise of exploring diplomacy-- has been the default strategy. This has had the added advantage of being the Bush administration's strategy, which means Republicans have been hard-pressed to oppose it.

But a reformist victory in Iran should give the administration greater room to maneuver. The American public will be more open to a new approach to Iran now, and Rowhani's election should give Congress pause in further intensifying sanctions. Washington need not lift any sanctions yet, but simply being willing to discuss the possibility in exchange for Iranian concessions would be a sea change in the nuclear negotiations. Failing that, nothing will change in the nuclear impasse and the reformist moment could just be that. The ball is in Washington's court.
An aside: if you're sickened by Lindsey Graham's constant warmongering and would like to see him out of the Senate next year, please help Democrat Jay Stamper defeat him. This afternoon, Jay told us "I wish I could say I'm surprised at Lindsey Graham's desire to establish a cruise missile enforced no fly zone in Syria. But it's just another example of Graham's guiding philosophy of war as a first resort. And it's consistent with Graham's strategy of incrementally escalating the conflict to the point where US troops can be deployed. I believe his ultimate goal isn't even a war with Syria but a wider conflict involving Iran. Thanks to Graham and other voices for war, we're now in the position of backing radical Islamic rebels in a proxy war that involves not just Syria and Iran but Russia as well."

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At 5:44 PM, Anonymous me said...

The Nobel Peace Prize has occasionally made a sorry mockery of itself.

Obama got it simply for not being Bush (actually, that's almost understandable), but it was also given to, of all people, Henry Kissinger! The PEACE prize! Wow, just wow. And sad.


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