Iran: Myth vs Reality

July 10, 2012

The machinery for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program – sanctions pressure and diplomatic engagement – showed encouraging movement this week.  Reuters reports today that Iran has been forced to shut off wells at its oilfields, reducing production and costing Tehran billions in lost revenues.  al Monitor reported yesterday that the “deputy nuclear negotiators for Iran and the six-nation P5+1 negotiating group will meet in Istanbul on July 24.”  According to EU officials, the objective of the talk is to “look further at how existing gaps in positions could be narrowed and how the process could be moved forward.” Bipartisan security leaders continue to say this track marks the best way forward, toward a negotiated endgame that, as diplomacy must, gives each side something of value. Yet a recent flurry of conservative commentary on Iran, including by John Bolton, Michael Singh, Michael Makovsky and Blaise Mistal, claims the opposite, that both diplomacy and sanctions are “failing,” leaving a quick recourse to force as the only option.

However, let’s take a look at the facts:

Hawk myth: Sanctions have failed, pressure is no longer mounting on Iran.

Fact: Economic and political pressure are growing as oil sales collapse. David Ignatius wrote last week, “Sanctions have pounded its [Iran’s] currency, financial markets and commercial activities, and a new round that took effect this week could slash oil exports.” Reuters reports today, “Tough Western sanctions are forcing Iran to take drastic action and shut off wells at its vast oilfields, reducing production to levels last seen more than two decades ago and costing Tehran billions in lost revenues. Iran struggled to sell its oil in the run-up to the European Union ban on July 1, yet it managed to sustain oilfield flows at lofty rates above 3 million barrels per day (bpd) by stashing unwanted barrels in tanks on land and on ships in the Gulf.” [David Ignatius, 7/2/12. Reuters, 7/10/12]

Hawk myth: Negotiations by their nature cannot provide an acceptable outcome.

Fact: The U.S. bottom line is that Iran cannot enrich enough to build a bomb. By insisting on zero enrichment forever, hawks are instead creating conditions for war or a nuclear Iran. Colin Kahl, former Middle East official at the Pentagon, explains, “by insisting, as many in Congress do and as the Israelis have, that whatever the final deal … must ensure that Iranians cannot engage in any domestic enrichment at any level at all, ever, no matter how stringent the inspections regime, no matter how limited the scale of the Iranian program, no matter how limited the level of enrichment. By insisting on zero enrichment forever, they’re probably drawing a diplomatic redline in the sign that produces almost zero prospect for a deal. So while giving lip service to wanting a deal, they’re kind of setting a set of conditions that basically makes a deal impossible. Which either means war with Iran or a nuclear Iran becomes more likely.” And Defense Secretary Panetta has clearly stated, “our hope is that these matters can be resolved diplomatically.”  [Colin Kahl via NSN, 6/15/12. Leon Panetta via ABC, 5/28/12]

Hawk myth: The next step is increased military pressure or a strike.

Fact: Military leaders favor negotiations, not more public pressure, and believe a strike could well do more harm than good. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that, “In case of an attack, political pressure on the regime will disappear. If Israel will attack, there is no doubt in my mind that this will also provide them with the justification to go ahead and move quickly to nuclear weapons.” And former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy similarly states, “It would ultimately hurt our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”  [Meir Dagan via Atlantic, 6/13/12. Michèle Flournoy via Defense News, 6/4/12]

 What We’re Reading

The Egyptian parliament convened despite a military ruling ordering its dissolution.

Lebanon reinforced its border with Syria.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was acquitted of two corruption charges, but convicted of a third.

Saddam Hussein’s former interior minister was released from prison.

China’s trade growth weakened as a result of the recent economic slump.

Prominent Islamists led a march against the re-opening of NATO supply routes in Pakistan.

Spain secured $36 billion in bailout money.

Romania’s Supreme Court approved a law making it easier to impeach the president.

The Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in The Hague.

The FBI offered a $1 million dollar reward for information on any of the four suspects wanted for killing a border patrol agent in 2010.

Commentary of the Day

Tom Junod explores ethical and legal questions at the heart of the United States’ targeted killing program.

Samuel Berger claims that foreign policy might have a stronger impact in the 2012 presidential election than scholars initially hypothesized.

Pavel Baev argues that Vladimir Putin’s above-the-fray approach and his aversion to liberalization is costing him with Russian elites.

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