Candidate Obama v President Obama
by ARASH KARAMI
12 Jul 2010 18:07
On Iran, President Obama should take road less traveled.[ opinion ] Obama's speech prior to signing new Iran sanctions into law was met with rounds of applause and even laughter. Could he have been any possible president? A George W. or H.W. Bush, a John McCain, a Bill or Hilary Clinton? I wondered if that bookishly smart, mesmerizing, articulate candidate would recognize this very staid and ordinary president.
During the Democratic primaries, candidate Obama dared admit that he would meet with leaders from Iran "without preconditions," a proclamation that became a hot sound bite and fodder for Hilary Clinton's no-experience assault. As the 24-hour news networks either chastised or worshiped Obama, no one bothered ask if the leaders of Iran would be willing to meet with him.
Given that since the Islamic Revolution Iranian politics have been founded on defiant anti-Americanism, a summit featuring Iranian leaders and an American president seems farfetched.
Iran's political system is as cutthroat as any, and appearing onstage with its archenemy is political suicide. Former President Khatami traveling in 2006 to America drew the right's ire, as hardliners condemned the visit, some insisting he lose his religious credentials.
Iranian officials however seem willing to meet on security and drug trafficking issues concerning Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, the Iranians did assist in the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.
For pragmatic reasons they appear determined never again to be sandwiched between two hostile governments. Losing half a million lives in the Iran-Iraq war and nearly staging a war with the Taliban after the execution of nine Iranian diplomats in 1998 are grim reminders of what can happen when not engaged with their neighbors. Regardless, any good will established with the United States as a result of cooperation turned to bitterness when President Bush included Iran in his "Axis of Evil" speech.
But that was President Bush, and this is supposedly the era of Change.
Up to this point, however, President Obama seems content one-upping President Bush on increasing severe sanctions, even while refraining from Bush's penchant for gunslinger tough talk.
The new sanctions, which passed 99 to 0 in the Senate and 408 to 8 in the House, were rather slim in the human rights department and guaranteed that Iranians, rich or poor, will now have to wait in even longer lines for gas.
As embarrassing as it may be, the world's 4th largest producer of crude oil has yet to refine that oil into large enough amounts of gasoline to meet its domestic needs. Instead, it exports crude and imports gas from primarily European and Indian firms. But talk of these sanctions early in the year have allowed Iran to stockpile a four-month supply. Still, even these reserves will eventually run dry.
Other sanctions include restrictions that deal with Iranian banks and insurers who insure Iranian cargo ships. These sanctions are meant to go after Iranian companies involved in Iran's nuclear program. How insurers can differentiate between a cargo ship controlled by the Revolutionary Guards and one containing, say, medicine, has yet to be explained. And given Iran's recent counter tactics, including changing the names of its vessels to appear British, these sanctions may be more difficult still to execute.
NIAC, the National Iranian American Council, erroneously, in my opinion, called these sanctions "crippling." I would call them the first-ever green sanctions. "Green" not for the political opposition party in Iran, but for the environmental effect it will have on Tehran's grossly polluted air.
With no gasoline, and thus no cars to clog Tehran's streets and highways, it will be a matter of weeks after supplies run out that Tehran's air becomes breathable again. And who knows, maybe Tehranis will take to bicycling like the Dutch.
At the same time, the bill places travel restrictions on Iranian human-rights abusers and forbids companies to sell Iran so-called "repressive technology" used to monitor the population and jam foreign satellite channels. Although these are positive steps, some groups, like NIAC, say they do not go far enough and should give explicit permission for NGOs to help promote democratic objectives inside Iran.
The larger question, however, remains: With these sanctions, what is expected to change?
The leaders of North Korea, Iraq, and Cuba weathered sanctions in their own unique ways that kept the respective leaderships in power. For while the human toll of sanctions is indubitable, American legislators and presidents must be concerned with U.S. interests.
Earlier this year, President Obama retained the nuclear first-strike policy towards Iran, insuring that he would stop at nothing to protect American citizens, or interests. And who could forget then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 60 Minutes stating, "We think the price is worth it," when informed that the U.N. estimated 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of sanctions?
According to the 2004 Iraq Survey Group, Saddam stopped his nuclear program following the first Gulf war, but retained the ability to restart the program. North Korea, despite sanctions, has developed a nuclear program according to the CIA. If Iran follows the lead of its Axis-of-Evil siblings, then their nuclear program may be impeded or delayed, but not eliminated, as a result of sanctions.
Some in the Iranian diaspora believe these sanctions will be enough to intensify the opposition movement and incite citizens to overthrow their government. This theory assumes that witnessing Iranians beaten and killed in the streets of Tehran and ongoing incidents of rape and torture by the authorities is not enough to adequately enrage the Iranian public. Rather, further impoverishing Iranians and limiting their access to technologies that facilitate communication will somehow provoke them. Time will tell if this theory holds true or if it's just the wishful thinking of a diaspora losing touch with the reality of its homeland.
In Iraq, Saddam tightened his grip on power as the middle class disintegrated. In North Korea, a third generation in the dynasty of despots is poised to take the helm despite any resistance. And in Cuba, with a half century of sanctions, Raul may have taken over for Fidel, but it's the same old Castro. So if regime change is the intended goal of sanctions, as some people may believe, it simply has yet to work.
The neocon camp, which apparently will not rest until it achieves the coveted hat trick in the Axis-of-Evil wars, seems at least momentarily appeased by these new sanctions. But as author and reporter Stephen Kinzer stated on Hamid Dabashi's "Week in Green" program, once the sanctions don't work (and he believes they won't), "Those who always wanted to go to war will say 'We tried everything, it didn't work...now we have no alternative but to go to war.'"
These neocons, who can count in their number of supporters the international man of un-diplomacy John Bolton, have also made unholy alliances with groups such as on again off again terrorist cult, MEK. No doubt they will soon dismiss "strategic sanctions" and reintroduce "strategic strikes" into the dialogue.
And again Obama will have the opportunity to appear either as a conventionally molded U.S. president, or as that misplaced candidate who captured the attention of the American public with promises of change, thus propelling him to a historic election. Time will tell if his presidency will be as historic.
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