Thursday, January 14, 2010

One Small Step Toward Rational Foreign Policy

Has Obama defeated the ominous war party of U.S. and Israeli extremists and obtained time for thoughtful reflection on how to resolve the U.S.-Iranian nuclear dispute in a rational manner?

So it would seem, judging from a persuasive analysis by Gary Sick. In his review of relations with Iran before the Knesset on Dec. 23 chief warmonger Netanyahu focused on sanctions, saying calmly that “time will tell if these sanctions will be enough to halt the Iranian nuclear program,” and gave no real sense of emergency. Time will also tell whether or not Netanyahu has decided that beating the war drums is no longer a productive way of making friends and influencing people in Washington. For the moment, Obama seems to have some breathing room.

Sick wrote of an Obama “victory over Iran.” The real enemy facing Obama in Sick’s account, however, was the war party in Washington, and that is the party Obama appears at least momentarily to have defeated.

Now Clinton, who threatened to annihilate Iran during the election, is now calling for targeted sanctions “on the elite,” a remarkably more sophisticated understanding of how to conduct foreign policy.

No hint yet exists of a fundamental restructuring of U.S. policy toward the Mideast that would countenance welcoming into regional affairs an independent-minded Iran, but Iran can hardly expect anything along those lines as long as it continues its savage oppression of domestic dissidents and its policy of shoving its nuclear independence in the world’s face. One step at a time is quite enough to kick off the new decade, and this step toward re-humanizing the American image of Iranians is a good one. It is a far step from viewing Iranian officials as "mad mullahs" to viewing them as cost-benefit analysts capable of moderating policy in order to preserve their rights to travel somewhere or trade with someone. The former is a tunnel straight to war with no side exits; the latter is normal business with a tough adversary, i.e., normal foreign policy.

Let’s pretend that a “new decade” is in fact a genuine starting point, put behind us all the sorry history of mutual insults from the mouths of Iranian, Israeli, and American politicians, and look forward. Watch for:

  • Israeli rhetoric about the Iranian threat;
  • Iranian willingness to actually cut a deal, any deal on the nuclear issue, rather than just have more talks;
  • Neo-con efforts to undercut progress in U.S.-Iranian ties;
  • Any mixing of the incomprehensible mess in Yemen with U.S.-Iranian nuclear ties.

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