There was a point during the campaign where American Jewish liberals, seemingly all at once, started parroting this weird talking point about how Bush failed on Iran and so people should vote for Obama. I was never able to totally untangle the logic – it was this kind of “Iran bad / Bush equal Iran / McCain equal Bush / QED” move – but I did understand that Obama was going to use his super-keen diplomatic ninja skills to increase pressure on the mullahs.
Now we have the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which is pretty much the absolute minimum we can do while still pretending to do anything. And we also have Obama blocking the legislation, which after passing the House was all set for quick Senate passage by the end of the year. Now if there was a certain amount of pressure being brought to bear on the mullahs, and then Obama decreased that pressure – is that the same as increasing pressure?
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, needs time to consider the bill… That means it’s extremely unlikely the Senate will rush the legislation before year’s end, as had been reported earlier especially considering other pressing matters. The go-slow approach takes some of the wind out of the version of the bill… It has become increasingly clear in recent days that the Obama administration wants to slow down the prospect of unilateral sanctions while it attempts to mass international support for multilateral measures aimed at forcing Iran to make its nuclear workings transparent…
What exists now is a situation in which many major Jewish groups — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Reform movement — are pushing hard for bills that Obama and Kerry would prefer to work slowly and carefully. Only Americans for Peace Now is publicly aligned with the administration in counseling changes to the proposed sanctions.
The original reason for Obama’s decision – per an interview Clinton gave to Al Jazeera last week – is that Bush was unilateral and so Obama isn’t going to be unilateral. I’m not exaggerating. “There are many things we could go off and do unilaterally, as the prior administration certainly demonstrated. That’s not our chosen path,” Quote unquote.
In recent days the pretext has become a little more nuanced, and the new excuse is that US sanctions would undermine efforts to get Russia and China into a sanctions regime. Now that’s not the most coherent argument – US legislation would only matter if it set a floor for multilateral sanctions, which this doesn’t – but honestly why waste the time? It’s much quicker to just repeat how Russia and China are never going to join us in an effective regime, prior US action or not.
The Chinese have become so brazen that they’re now saying they can’t engage in P5+1 talks until next year because – really – their schedule is just too full. An apocalyptic regime is about to get its hands on some of the planet’s most destructive weapons, and the Chinese are washing their hair or folding their socks or whatever it is they’ve got booked:
An upcoming meeting by the P5+1 on trying to curb Iran’s nuclear program has been postponed at China’s behest, senior officials from three of the countries involved said Monday. One of the officials said China cited scheduling problems in asking for the deferral, and the six countries may instead talk by videoconference before the year’s end. A US spokesman said that the meeting might take place next year. The official said China seemed to have genuine problems in attending the meeting in Brussels or outside the Copenhagen climate summit and did not appear to be seeking to delay it. Still, the development was a setback in efforts to present a unified front on Iran in the face of continued Iranian defiance on its nuclear program.
In fairness, no one could have predicted that the Chinese were serious in October and November when they said they wouldn’t support sanctions in December. But at least we got them to back a “toughly worded” letter to Iran, something that Obama claimed as a huge diplomatic victory. Again: really.
Unrelatedly, The President has again moved back the deadline for Iran. The new drop-dead date now runs through the end of the year. Lucky break for our Iran experts. They’ve been promising for years that Iranian intransigence in the face of US outreach would secure Russian and Chinese buyin. Cf. Karim Sadjadpour, “an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,” just a few weeks ago. If time had run out and the US still couldn’t get China and Russia on board, it would seem like all those years of pseudo-sophisticated think tank pretexts were just designed to help Iran cross the nuclear finish line.
As for Moscow: no matter how many times Clinton insists that Obama’s failed Iran gambits have engendered Russian cooperation – and she’s done it a couple times now – it’s just not true. The way you can tell it’s not true is because the Russians keep saying it’s not true. Clinton rolled into October talks insisting Russia had agreed to a carrot and sticks approach, which Russia promptly denied. So they went into talks and two days later Clinton came out saying that this time Russia really would support sanctions, which Russia has still not done.
But Obama’s blocking even minimally effective sanctions to win over Russia and China. Obviously. The best part? When the inevitable conflict between Israel and Iran does break out, Israel will be blamed for needless warfare because sanctions were just around the corner.
* Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act [AIPAC]
* Obama and Kerry slowing sanctions legislation push [JTA]
* P5+1 meeting on Iran postponed [JPost]
* China’s links to Iran a snag for sanctions [LAT]
* Why China Isn’t Willing to Get Too Tough on Iran [TIME]
* China’s backing on Iran followed dire pred