Hogan's Alley

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Strategic Diplomacy Played Out In The NY Times

The lead article in today's print editions of the NY Times is headlined, "Iran Strategy Stirs Debate at White House." The article, by Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, reports that a debate is ongoing in Administration circles between those who favor a push for firm diplomatic pressure on the Iranian government to end its development of fissionable material and those who favor a military strike on those nuclear facilities.

Cooper and Sanger report that their sources are "officials at the State Department, White House and the Pentagon who are on both sides of the debate, as well as people who have spoken with members of Mr. Cheney’s staff and with Ms. Rice. The officials said they were willing to explain the thinking behind their positions, but would do so only on condition of anonymity."

The core of the debate is between those in the Cheney camp who want to establish a "red line" beyond which the Iranians would not be allowed to proceed, even if military action is the only way of interfering with their progress. The Rice camp want to press the European nations to increase the economic pressures on Iran, hoping that sufficient pressure will encourage the Iranians to come to the table with an offer that would assure no development of nuclear weapons.

I find it difficult to read this article without wondering aloud if the editors and writers at the Times weren't certain that they were being used as a conduit to ratchet up the drumbeat of the hawks as a means of motivating the Europeans to act in order to avoid an American or Israeli air strike. There seems to be "managed coincidence" of public debate over this issue.

As the Times piece mentions, Norman Podhoretz in the current Commentary, features a lead piece entitled, "The Case For Bombing Iran." His conclusion is that Iran's intentions are nothing less than the building of a nuclear arsenal to wipe out Israel, dominate the Middle East and its oil resources, and extending the power and influence into Europe. In Podhoretz' view, the only means of stopping this important front in what he views and World War IV is military action.

Leaving aside the very important question of the likelihood of the success of such military action and our ability to counter any Iranian counter moves, Podhoretz and other hawks like William Kristol and John Bolton are raising a chorus of cries for armed steps against Iran. At the same time State Department and Treasury officials, according to the Times, "...have been trying to use the mounting conservative calls for a military strike to press Europe and Russia to expand economic sanctions against Iran."

In fact, in this weeks US News and World Report, Dennis Ross, former mideast negotiator for both the Clinton and first Bush Administrations, argues that:

It's time to go outside the Security Council and persuade our European allies to move beyond incremental pressures and actually cut their economic lifeline to Iran such as the billions of dollars in credit guarantees to companies doing business with Tehran.

How to convince the European Union? Statecraft. Convey to the Europeans that unless economic pressure is dramatically increased now, the use of force to stop the Iranian nuclear program will become more, not less, likely. To make economic pressure more palatable to the Europeans, let them know that once the new penalties are in place, we will join them in direct negotiations with Iran—something they believe is the key to overcoming the crisis with Iran.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it.

The real question for this period in world communications and diplomacy is whether or not such plain ploys, conducted in the open, can be effective. On the left, some have focused on the threat of military action as another looming error of the Bushies. They want any such threats taken absolutely off the table. In truth, they should be rooting for Cheney and company's sabre rattling. Only if they are believed are the sanctions likely to be enacted that might stand a realistic chance of getting the attention of the Mullahs and Pres. Ahmadinejad.

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