Following the Cold War, a highly abnormal period during which the minor members of each global bloc were expected to make sacrifices for their respective blocs, it is probably fair to say that most countries looked forward to gaining a bit more freedom of maneuver, a bit more consideration of their particular viewpoints. Thus, when some country protests that Washington’s pressuring of Iran is not the appropriate approach, Washington should not be too hasty to dismiss this argument. Such comments have become increasingly prominent lately, e.g., in Brazilia and Ankara.
Now China’s special envoy to the Mideast, Wu Sike, is reported by China Daily on March 9 as asserting that China’s primary reason for opposing sanctions (the economic equivalent of war) is that “tough measures may backfire.” Wu’s point is historically solid – economic blackmail or economic warfare, if you find that a more appropriate term, has a rather poor record of effectiveness.
However, there is a broader point. Whether the possibility of failure is more important to China’s leaders than economic considerations (i.e., China’s large oil imports from and trade ties with Iran) or not, it seems safe to assume that Beijing genuinely views with concern any international precedent for bullying countries that do not follow rules “made in the USA.”
That point of course also applies to Ankara and Brazilia, both of which are demonstrating rising interest in finding their own way internationally. Syria, despite its alliance with Iran, also belongs firmly in this group.
It may be that the Obama Administration has a brilliant behind-the-scenes policy of asking Ankara, Beijing, Brazilia, and Damascus to engage politely in sincere discussions with Tehran. If not, Obama deserves an F in international relations. If so, he still deserves no more than a D because he is allowing his former competitor for the presidency, a specialist in health care policy where she is desperately needed rather than international affairs, to make public remarks that will sabotage any sincere effort by Washington to encourage regimes with good contacts in Tehran to make use of those contacts in the interests of the common good.
Rather than running scared in the face of the standard rightwing attacks against anyone in favor of international peace and cooperation, Obama should allow the ravings of those extremists to stand as a warning of what could happen to a recalcitrant Iran and himself develop a consistent public/private policy of searching for compromise.
For those who, even if not right-wingers, don’t know the definition of the word “compromise,” it means that both sides make concessions. Perhaps you think sarcasm is unnecessary here, but the truth is that not very many people in Washington understand this word. Searching for compromise means that Obama needs to start laying out not “what Iran needs to do” – a phrase that should constitute grounds for immediate dismissal of any so-called diplomat from whose lips it escapes – but what Washington is willing to offer.
If you are having trouble with this, think of it in terms of poker. When your antagonist plays a card, you don’t say, “What you need to do is remove that card.” No, you counter with a card of your own. Back in the Cold War days, such cards were called “confidence-building measures,” and they did much to avoid nuclear holocaust.