Larding On More Iran Sanctions

Behind the scenes, Iran says it’s willing to offer more assurances that it really isn’t building a nuclear bomb, but Israel and many of its U.S. congressional allies keep pushing for a nasty showdown. The dynamic is now impeding President Obama’s ability to defuse the crisis, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The latest indication of how sanctions-imposing initiatives in Congress have deteriorated into mindless Iran-bashing is how the Obama administration has had to weigh in on the writing of the defense authorization bill to minimize the damage it does to U.S. diplomacy on Iran.

Bear in mind that the administration and the congressional protagonists are, on the face of it, seeking the same thing: policies in Tehran that assure the rest of the world that Iran is not making and will not make a nuclear weapon. The President, like the protagonists in Congress, has pronounced an Iranian nuclear weapon to be unacceptable.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey.

The President, also like members of Congress, sees the imposition of harsh economic sanctions on Iran as a major tool in trying to achieve the desired result. In fact, in the recent election campaign the Obama camp made a rather big deal out of how the most extensive sanctions ever imposed on Iran had been put in place during the current administration.

In other words, there does not appear to be disagreement on fundamental objectives, unlike with, say, the current main event of political combat along Pennsylvania Avenue, i.e., the one about budgets and taxes where there is disagreement on some rather fundamental questions about burden-sharing and the like.

Therefore, again, if we take stated objectives about Iran at face value, any disagreement between the administration and members of Congress concerns tactical judgments about what combination of policies and tools has the best chance of getting closer to the shared objective of foreclosing the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The administration sees, with good reason, the additional sanctions that Sens. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, and Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, want to include in the defense bill as complicating rather than facilitating movement toward that objective. The sanctions that have already been piled on have passed the point where they start decreasing rather than increasing the President’s negotiating strength and flexibility in trying to cut a deal with Iran.

An administration aide stated that provisions in the bill about sanctions also “would be impossible to enforce and only make our allies really angry. They would have endangered their cooperation with the sanctions we have now.”

It should be clear from the history of the past couple of years, as well as a little thought about incentives for Iranian policymakers, that simply piling on still more sanctions without more Western flexibility at the negotiating table will not attain the U.S. objective.

The sanctions are hurting Iran and are a major reason Iran wants to negotiate a deal. But the Iranians have dismissed the only sanctions relief that has been offered so far as peanuts, which it is. They have no reason to make significant concessions if they don’t think they will be getting anything significant in return.

If members of Congress were really interested in inducing changes in Iran’s policy and behavior, they would be devoting as much time and energy to asking why the powers negotiating with Iran evidently do not intend to depart much from their failed negotiating formulas of the past as they would in trying to find some new sanction to impose.

There are two possible explanations for why members of Congress are making trouble on this issue despite the ostensibly shared objective. One is that some members may actually naively believe that if turning the screws hasn’t yet gotten the Iranians to cry uncle, then all we need to do is to turn them some more.

The other explanation is that it is a mistake to take the stated objectives at face value and that for some members getting a negotiated agreement with Iran is less important than their own posturing, which is based on the belief that Iran-bashing and Iran-pressuring is always good politics. Menendez gave some indication of this when he refused Harry Reid’s request for a voice vote on his sanctions amendment and insisted on a roll call vote, which slowed the legislative process down but put everyone’s hard-line anti-Iran chops on the record.

Menendez’s conduct on the Iran issue underscores an additional complication for the President as he considers candidates to replace Secretary of State Clinton. Appointing the otherwise well-qualified John Kerry would mean not only giving up a Senate seat that Massachusetts Republicans may recapture but also having the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee probably pass to Menendez.

This would mean not only losing a constructive force in this key foreign policy position but also having it replaced by a destructive influence.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

7 comments for “Larding On More Iran Sanctions

  1. A. Pseudonym
    December 15, 2012 at 11:25

    You make an interesting point, but it is all just antisemitism if you refuse to separate “jews” from “zionists.” There are plenty of “jews” in America and Israel that do not support the militant zionist agenda.

  2. F. G. Sanford
    December 14, 2012 at 20:44

    “Doublespeak” is in full force, and Americans, including our elected representatives, are collectively participating in the charade. A nation informed by CNN and FOX, and which, thanks to our mediocre education system, is only functionally literate, cannot see through it. “Sanctions” used to be called “economic blockade”. Economic blockade is an act of war. So, we are committing an act of war against a non-combatant based on the threat of non-existent weapons at the behest of a combatant “ally” nation who has those weapons, but refuses to participate in the regulatory exercises it demands of the non-combatant nation. As a country which lacks defined borders, that “ally” cannot participate in treaty agreements in the first place, because it exists in a state of war and is in violation of the norms of international law. We’ve carried “doublespeak” to a plane of hypocrisy even Orwell couldn’t have imagined. These are examples of the very “entangling alliances” that started World War I…unless you believe that infantile explanation citing the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

    • paschn
      December 15, 2012 at 09:33

      Both of you, (Mr. Sanford and MA), made some very good points in my opinion. MA called it like it is;

      “This is all because ‘we’ are a mad dog who needs shot in the head”.

      Accurate metaphore. As they did with Russia and the following,

      Our country and government is no longer “ours”. Jew money lenders have, (as always), used unlimited cash gained by their global Central Banks to buy the best governments money can buy then turned them upon their own people. the “mad dog”, (federal entity) does need a bullet to the head, (secession en mass), to stop this global waging of war/death and enslavement.

      Mr. Sanford brought out some very good additional points that many of us forget to factor in as we look at “history” and compare it with history.

      Most AmeriKans don’t have the foresight or intellect to see what has happened and why it can’t/won’t be reversed to any helpful degree. They simply want to keep this purely evil, murderous “United States” around probably because they like being a citizen of the “Big Dog”. Only trouble is, Big Dog is,(as MA stated), “rabid” with corruption from Central Bank power and money and is causing obscene misery, destruction and death and for our sake and the world en toto it needs to be put down. the least bloody way to do it, (and rapidly I might ad), is by making it “disappear’ through all states simply walking away, secession. Then, if these newly free states want to form republics with neighboring states or go it alone, they can eliminate the hold of the Central Banks simply by including in their new, (or revised, old), constitutions that their governments cannot delegate the power of printing/ distributing currency to any entity and they cannot “borrow” into debt.

      I use the following link often to show people the frightening similarities between what happened to Russia and what IS COMING to AmeriKa;

      The same treacherous group and it WILL BE the same horrible results.

      The link below will take you to a very eye opening site that will lay out for readers, in historic fact how we and the world have been used and abused by corrupting power i.e. the theft of a sovereign nation’s currency/government.

      These are my opinions, take them for what you think they’re worth. The links are there to show you all how I arrive at those opinions, this post is to show my appreciation to those like persons whom, because of their ability to tell it like it is, give me hope that things just might get straightened out before we have our own little “Bolshevik Revolution” right here in AmeriKa. Thank you both and other cognizant people for giving me hope.

    • A. Pseudonym
      December 15, 2012 at 11:19

      Need a “like” button for some of these comments.

      • Boris Velakowsky
        December 15, 2012 at 13:49

        I agree.
        Then we wouldn’t have to read the enlightened comments of boring borat.

  3. MA
    December 14, 2012 at 19:00

    Paul R Pillar, don’t bore us with your childlike analysis. Even the dogs in street know what these sanctions are for and who is twisting America’s arms to tighten these sanctions. ‘we’ are not interested in negotiated settlement with Palastinians; ‘we’ are not interested with negotiated settlement with Syria and ‘we’ are not interested with negotiated settlement with Iran. This is all because ‘we’ are a mad dog who needs shot in the head.

  4. paschn
    December 14, 2012 at 15:47

    If you look closely at the article,(with pics), you’ll see an example of “animals” failing to control animals,(attack dogs). Another thing that pops out at you will be the scary similarities between the IDF and their “students” here in AmeriKa.

    AmeriKa’s version of the S.S. Our sycophants-in-Blue (with the help of the terrorist nation/no constitution/nuclear rogue occupiers of Palestine routinely violate their own citizen’s constitutional as well as human rights. I wonder whom it was that came up with yet another lucrative contract for a 5th column Israeli corporation to bilk U.S. tax payers to “train” the Amerikan S.S.? Yet another “show” of deep respect/patriotism by AmeriKa’s “owned” government. I doubt that they “accidently” chose the military of a terrorist nation with out a constitution or bill of rights to train LEO’s here in Israel’s Western Colony….”animals” training willing “animals. It must be extrememly difficult for “our leaders” to juggle their time between their masters at AIPAC, corporate board rooms and their constituents. Can you guess the group getting the short end of their Time?

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