A couple of weeks ago, I posted about how a restless Congress was on the verge of passing HR 2194, the bill expanding the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. With the January 1st deadline looming up ahead, President Obama was at risk of either looking like a liberal pansy unable to follow through on his threats from ten months ago, or instituting unconscionable sanctions that could undermine the organic nature of Iran’s domestic upheaval. Let’s take a moment to feel bad for the president: The hawks were fiendishly rubbing their hands together as news of the enrichment site at Qom made headlines; the pundits had already decided that Iran was making bad-faith promises and covertly producing a bomb; and, Congress had decided that it was time to force the increasingly inept Iranian government into action by indiscriminately targeting just about everyone. Critics were already whispering about appeasement, while Obama likely knew that the gasoline sanctions outlined in HR 2194 were the worst possible way to convince Iran to cooperate. The Revolutionary Guard, with their access to smuggled goods, would only prosper, and the United States would be construed (perhaps rightfully) as an enemy of the average Iranian citizen.
Somehow, amidst a media frenzy over the Christmas Day underwear bomber, a new narrative emerged. Apparently, instead of crushing the middle-class backbone of the Green movement, the White House wants to pursue targeted sanctions against select parts of the Iranian government. This means targeting the corporate subsidiaries and front companies of government officials and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in an attempt to have the middle-class emerge relatively unscathed and then blame any isolation on its already-lambasted government. According to an interview given to the Washington Post shortly before the new year, the administration’s policy thus far has been working. Don’t feel bad if you weren’t aware of that small morsel; no one knew except whoever’s calling the press shots up in Washington. And never mind that none of the information offered as proof of the past year’s success was released until, well, now.
According to the Post article:
Even before the unveiling of new sanctions, the administration has taken a dramatically harsher tone on Iran, in part because of the crackdown on anti-government demonstrators. After Iranian security forces shot at protesters in the streets over the weekend, Obama interrupted his Hawaiian vacation to strongly condemn the official reaction in Tehran.
Let’s for a second ignore the image of what exactly a verbal condemnation of Tehran might look like, coming from Hawaii. The article’s spin is particularly interesting in light of rising restlessness leading up to these strategic revelations of the administration’s resounding success. While Obama’s hesitancy was previously characterized as appeasement, it is now being called an opportunity, dramatically harsh, and aggressive. Meanwhile, the minor detail about giving Iran more time than we promised them has been pushed under the rug even by the neocons over at the Post, who actually lauded Obama’s engagement in a recent editorial. Then, too, from the New York Times:
“For now, the Iranians don’t have a credible breakout option, and we don’t think they will have one for at least 18 months, maybe two or three years,” said one senior administration official at the center of the White House Iran strategy. The administration has told allies that the longer time frame would allow the sanctions to have an effect before Iran could develop its nuclear ability.
To recap, then: We uncovered the covert operation in Qom; our policy of the last year, despite prior media coverage to the contrary, is definitely weakening the Iranian government; and, Iran doesn’t actually have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon right now. Moreover, the Israelis, despite having convinced everyone that they are about to be obliterated at any point, are thinking these sanctions might just work out.
Oh, but the negotiations aren’t over. And we’re still considering that whole option of swapping on Turkish soil. (But don’t tell anyone).