July 12, 2010

Sanctions Are the New Appeasement

Citizens United — famous for winning the Supreme Court case that ruled corporations have first amendment rights — has used the massive influx of cash that came with their notoriety to put together this ad.  It’s a lot of the usual “Obama is Chamberlain; Iran is Hitler” message that has been peddled by dozens of fearmongers since the Bush Administration and before.  But the spot was framed in an interesting light in the press release accompanying the ad, in which Citizens United Presiden David Bossie says:

From the first days of his presidential campaign through today, President Obama has displayed a dangerous naiveté when it comes to the threat that Iran poses to our allies in the Middle East and to the United States itself. History demonstrates that sanctions are not a cure-all for regimes bent on destroying other peaceful nations. The President must step up to this challenge before Iran has the opportunity to develop nuclear weapons. (emphasis added)

“Dangerous naiveté” is not a new criticism of Obama’s Iran policy.  But if you look closely, this is not a criticism of Obama’s engagement strategy. What Citizens United calls Obama’s naiveté seems to be his support for sanctions!  Sanctions aren’t enough, so the President must “step up” and “stop Iran now.”
This echoes the message in a Washington Post op-ed last Friday by former Virginia Senator Charles Robb and retired General Chuck Wald titled “Sanctions alone won’t work on Iran.” They argue that diplomacy and sanctions must be combined with credible threats of military force (what the two call “kinetic action”) if the US is to compel Iran to give up its nuclear program.
It’s been less than two weeks since the President signed new sanctions into law, [and the new law has not even come into force yet] but the groundwork is already being laid for the next escalation.
Now, I do not believe Barack Obama is necessarily leading the country down a path to war with Iran.  But that does not mean there aren’t powerful forces at work in Washington trying to shape a narrative that will make an attack more acceptable.  It would be wholly unsurprising if, the day after an Israeli airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, more media attention is given to how it will have been justified than to the potential catastrophe it could mean for the US and the region at large.

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