Wonks gone wild: Obama’s nuclear diplomacy

As the week comes to a close, it’s time to review some of what leading journalists, pundits, and policy wonks — from the left, right, and murky center — are saying about new UN sanctions on Iran and the Turkey fuel-swap deal:

Leslie Gelb in the Daily Beast:

The United States will not be able to sustain this highly self-centered and highly differentiated anti-nuclear policy. It could survive during the Cold War in the face of a uniting threat from the Soviet Union, but not now. What Brazil, Turkey and Iran did, will be replicated in years to come. The best and perhaps only way for the United States to retain most of its nuclear cake is to let others munch upon it as well. U.S. administrations should not denigrate or try to sidetrack these inevitable diplomatic efforts by new major powers. Instead, the White House should embrace them and, at the same time, instill in their diplomacy what remains a critical common interest in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons-the absolute need for credible and intrusive inspections into the nuclear operations of all countries developing “peaceful nuclear power.”

Roger Cohen in the New York Times:

Presidents must lead on major foreign policy initiatives, not be bullied by domestic political considerations, in this case incandescent Iran ire on the Hill in an election year…. Brazil and Turkey represent the emergent post-Western world. It will continue to emerge; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should therefore be less trigger-happy in killing with faint praise the “sincere efforts” of Brasilia and Ankara. The West’s ability to impose solutions to global issues like Iran’s nuclear program has unraveled. America, engaged in two inconclusive wars in Muslim countries, cannot afford a third. The first decade of the 21st century has delineated the limits of U.S. power: It is great but no longer determinative. Lots of Americans, including the Tea Party diehards busy baying at wolves, are angry about this. They will learn that facts are facts.

Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post:

That picture — a defiant, triumphant take-that-Uncle-Sam — is a crushing verdict on the Obama foreign policy. It demonstrates how rising powers, traditional American allies, having watched this administration in action, have decided that there’s no cost in lining up with America’s enemies and no profit in lining up with a U.S. president given to apologies and appeasement. They’ve watched President Obama’s humiliating attempts to appease Iran, as every rejected overture is met with abjectly renewed U.S. negotiating offers. American acquiescence reached such a point that the president was late, hesitant and flaccid in expressing even rhetorical support for democracy demonstrators who were being brutally suppressed and whose call for regime change offered the potential for the most significant U.S. strategic advance in the region in 30 years.

Ralph Peters in the New York Post:

What Brazil and Turkey just did wasn’t intended to impede Tehran, but to make it harder for Western powers to impose sanctions. Both countries want Iran to run interference for them. Once Iran gets the bomb and takes the (slight) heat, Brazil and Turkey both intend to go nuclear. Brazil wants vanity nukes to cement its position as South America’s hegemon, a regional alternative to the US. Turkey’s slow-roll Islamist government dreams of a new Ottoman age — as it turns from the West to embrace the Muslim states it ruled a century ago. After easing Tehran’s path to the bomb, Ankara will claim that it needs its own nuclear capability to maintain regional stability.

Joe Klein in TIME Magazine:

Which brings us to the Turkey-Brazil deal: it’s a lousy one and, clearly, the Iranians are using Turkey and Brazil as yet another means to delay or avoid compliance with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty to which Iran is a signatory. But what’s in it for Turkey and Brazil? There are potential commercial benefits, to be sure. But there is also national pride at stake. Brazil is a global economic power that has been relegated to the back benches of international diplomacy. Turkey, spurned by the European Union, has decided to become a leading player in its region. These impulses are potentially valuable: Brazil’s and Turkey’s interests will align, most often, with those of the U.S. Indeed, the bottom line in all this is pretty positive: traditional powers like Russia and China are edging away from Iran, while potentially constructive new players, like Turkey and Brazil, are pushing their way into multilateral diplomacy. On the other hand, unfortunately, Iran is still merrily enriching uranium at levels that are approaching weapons-grade, and it isn’t likely to stop anytime soon.

Michael Anton in the Weekly Standard:

Yet surprisingly, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council had held firm. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister went as far as to reject any link between the deal and the impending sanctions resolution. Chinese statements have been more cautious but Beijing is still indicating that it will support the resolution. But the UN Security Council has ten rotating members beyond the Perm Five-and right now Brazil and Turkey are two of those ten. Of the others, Lebanon is a sure bet to vote against, while Austria has indicated skepticism for the resolution and Japan has praised the uranium swap deal. Passage is therefore far from certain. Whether the measure passes or not, however, the damage has been done. Iran has done what it always does when confronted by the specter of international consensus-feint, make a deal, concede on the margins, buy time. In this instance that time has been bought very cheaply. Its value to Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program is nonetheless priceless.

Juan Cole in Informed Comment:

Obama mysteriously has ceased leading on the Iran issue and is instead showing himself willing to be led. Thus have the pragmatic hawks (with the war hawks waiting in the wings) defeated the Realists and the liberal internationalists. Obama stabbed Turkey and Brazil in the back after asking them to risk their face for him. Obama is giving Iran the impression that he is indecisive. All of this backtracking for the sake of a sanctions regime that is highly unlikely actually to change Iran’s behavior, contrary to the express hopes of Secretary Gates. Obama’s current Iran policy cannot be explained in the terms of US-Iranian relations. It must be driven by something else. The Israel lobbies and dealings with the Netanyahu government are the likeliest candidates in explaining the abandonment of a Realist approach.

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  • Neo says:

    The basic equation has been the same for the better part of a decade. Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. Short of all out war there is nothing that will impede them. The United States is not going to risk a third major war to stop the Iranians. The west is also in the middle of a major economic crises and the last thing it needs is a disruption in oil supplies.
    Watching how the various sides try to solve the unsolvable, is interesting though. On the one end of the political spectrum we have the hawks, who like to bang on their war drums and will continue to do so, even when all the noise has nothing to back it up. The doves have their own exercise in futility going on. Unilateral concessions have been paraded around as a sign of our peaceful intentions on the international scene. The meager achievement of these concessions has been to throw the western peace movement a bone. The rest of the world seems utterly unimpressed and our leverage on international sanctions against Iran hasn’t improved from the last administration to this one.
    Joe Kleins assessment seems to be the most accurate, Brazil and Turkey have taken the track away from confrontation and have no problem diluting American policy . I would take issue with Mr. Krauthammer, in that taking a hard line posture and making hollow threats are equally infective if they have neither teeth nor public political support. Ralph Peters goes too far with ascribing nuclear ambitions to Brazil and Turkey, but he is correct that they intend to head off any sanctions and dilute US policy. Usually they wait for Russia or China to do so. Than on the academic fringe, representing the “reality based community”

  • Mark S says:

    Krauthammer nailed it, as usual. The United States has abandoned its international leadership role and nations are adjusting their relations accordingly.

  • Neo says:

    I would disagree about Krauthammer “nailing it”

  • Bungo says:

    I don’t understand why there is so much “gnashing of teeth” over our policy towards Iran (or N. Korea for that matter) and this desire for a “quick” solution. Our current policy is correct and proper, which is Keep up all diplomatic pressure and sanctions for as long as it takes and ratchet them up even higher as long as they continue their nuclear program. You have to stay with it as long as it takes. Eventually only a couple of things can happen :
    They give in and dismantle the program.
    The regime gets overthrown in a revolution and a more reasonable leadership emerges.
    They play with Nukes until someone like Israel decides to “smoke” them off the face of the earth.
    They get Nukes but live indefinitly under crushing sanctions and international quarantine.
    There’s really no other rational approach to proliferation. This regime, like Saddam Hussein’s can’t last forever.

  • Spooky says:

    I whole-heartedly agree, Bungo.
    The whole Iranian nuclear issue is such a waste of our efforts. Let them get their nukes, because I assure you that the middle east is just as aware of MAD as the European powers were during the Cold War and so they will keep themselves in check with Israel just as Pakistan does with India.
    Also, this isn’t a wish of JUST the theocratic regime, but of the Iranian people to. As such, they will get nuclear weapons eventually, because they have their pride and they have enemies other than just Israel. The mechanics of the balance of power always strives to either symmetry or opposite asymmetry.
    Will it cause an arms race? Yeah. So what? It’ll drain the funds they otherwise use to fund terrorism. Even with more weapons available, its not like there was a shortage in the first place.
    I’m far more concerned about the wars we’re actually fighting and countries that have actually detonated nukes rather than a country that could POTENTIALLY do so.

  • UNF says:

    It seems the fond delusions of Monroe-indoctrinated USan MasterRacers are overdue some sober reappraisal. Even a nation of dunderhead intellectual bankrupts run by notorious warcriminals must eventually realise that claiming a jewish sky-zombie named ‘Gawd’ endowed it with ‘Manifest Destiny’ to rule the planet does NOT EQUAL moral leadership nor any right to dictate to others. It just shows up those holding such notions as witless barbaric throwbacks.
    Is that concept too difficult? Not so for the rest of the world, where the tree is judged by its fruits, not what the Chief Pharisee extrudes out his pie-hole – e.g. Wars of Aggression, Oil-Piracy, Kidnapping, Torture, Murder and destroying Democracy, Freedom and Sovereignty in many Nations. In fact, the only field on which USA truly is supreme is that of overwhelming hypocrisy. Just digest that and then deal with reality, thanks.


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