Posted on October 23, 2012

Portrait: Professor Juan Cole. (photo: Informed Comment)
Portrait: Professor Juan Cole. (photo: Informed Comment)

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By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

22 October 12

1. It is alleged that Obama’s willingness to negotiate with the Tehran regime encouraged the Ayatollahs to be even more obstreperous. In fact, the regime was split by the offer to talk, and Wikileaks State Department cables show that President Ahmadinejad was much more enthusiastic about seeking a diplomatic solution than were the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a commander of which gave Ahmadinejad a slap.


2.  It is alleged that Iran is ‘four years closer to having a nuclear weapon.’ There is no solid evidence that Iran even has a nuclear weapons program, as opposed to a civilian nuclear enrichment program to produce fuel for electricity-generating plants (the US has 100 of these and generates the fuel for them). If it doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program, it can’t be closer to having a bomb. The question is being begged here, which is a logical fallacy and bad policy.

3. The same logic, of Iran steadily getting closer to a bomb because of administration inaction, could be applied to the terms of George W. Bush. How did Bush ignoring Iran and occasionally rattling sabers at it for 8 years affect Iran’s nuclear enrichment program?

4. It is assumed that Mitt Romney could do “more” with regard to sanctions on Iran. But the current financial blockade on Iranian oil sales are the most extensive form of sanctions imposed on a country since FDR cut the Japanese off from petroleum and equipment in 1940. FDR’s aggressive sanctions on Japan led to the Pearl Harbor attacks. What more would Romney do and how would he avoid such steps spiraling into all-out war? Romney is simply talking more aggressively, without actually proposing any concrete policies.

5. One of the lines of attack by Republicans on President Obama’s foreign policy is that he was insufficiently supportive in public of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran. But the Obama administration did reach out behind the scenes to Green Movement to encourage it. Obama also referred to it positively in speeches. But an aggressive announced support of the sort the Republicans say they wanted would have simply raised questions in the minds even of Green supporters as to whether the movement was a CIA-backed ‘color revolution.’ Such charges were made by the Khamenei faction, but were mostly dismissed by Iranians as a result of Obama’s low-key approach.

6. In the heated rhetoric of a presidential campaign, it is alleged by Dan Senor and others that ‘this was the last chance we had to get rid of that regime.’ The Green Movement was a reform within the Islamic Republic, not an attempt to overthrow it. The Green Movement leaders said they supported Ayatollah Khamenei. There was no prospect of getting rid of the regime.

7. Even had the Green Movement succeeded, there is no reason to think it would have mothballed the nuclear enrichment program, which is popular with the Iranian public.

8. Iran is continually accused of being the biggest supporter of terrorism in the Middle East, and its support for Hizbullah in Lebanon is instanced. Obama is accused of putting up with all this. But if terrorism is defined, as it is in the US civil code, as the deployment of violence against civilians by a non-state actor for political purposes, that simply is not true. Hizbullah primarily deployed violence against Israeli troops occupying Lebanese territory, which is warfare, not terrorism. There wasn’t any Hizbullah before Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon in 1982-2000. Moreover, the Lebanese government has formally recognized Hizbullah as a sort of national guard for the southern borders of Lebanon. And, it has seats in parliament and on the cabinet. It isn’t exactly a non-state actor. As for Iranian support of Hamas in Gaza, that alliance seems to have collapsed as Hamas has turned against Syria and turned toward the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.

9. Paul Ryan and others have said that the Obama administration resisted the financial blockade on Iranian petroleum mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act, which went into effect July 1. That allegation may well be true. But this blockade has clearly raised tensions to a fever pitch in the Gulf, and the Obama administration may have seen them as risking military escalation. Might that not be a more prudent stance? Nevertheless, Obama signed the bill and has implemented it, so it is hard to see what the cavil is

10. The NDAA financial blockade on sale of Iranian petroleum won’t alter the regime’s commitment to nuclear enrichment either. Sanctions cannot bring down the regime, which can use smuggled petroleum to cushion its high officials, just as Saddam’s Iraq did under sanctions. Iran is going for a ‘Japan option’ or ‘nuclear latency,’ where it has the capability to make a warhead quickly if it looks as though the country were about to be invaded. Its government won’t give that up without, as one US general put it, being invaded and occupied. Is Romney willing to go that far? If not, how is he really different than Obama?