The United States is in a huge foreign policy
muddle in the Middle East. It wants to dominate and control Iran, but it requires
the support of the world community to accomplish its aims. Diplomacy and sanctions
require only a low level of support. On the other hand, to launch a military
attack or green-light one by Israel, the United States needs far more backing.
This support does not appear to exist, and recent U.S. foreign policy actions
are eroding that support even further. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz
reported on Aug.
13 that the United States refused to give the go-ahead to Israeli attacks on
Iran's nuclear facilities in talks between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Could it be that the Bush administration
finally knows when it is licked?
Israeli officials acknowledge that it would be difficult to launch such an
attack without approval from Russia, China, and India, something that the United
States would have to lobby those nations to achieve. The chances at present
are extremely slim that any of the three will acquiesce.
U.S. condemnation of Russia's military action to defend the breakaway region
of South Ossetia, combined with the determination of the Bush administration
to install missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, virtually guarantee
that Russia will not do anything to help the United States foment more violence
in its neighborhood.
Beijing owns much of the U.S. debt, continues to be one of Tehran's largest
trade partners, and is not about to be dictated to by Washington. India has
defied the United States by entering into a
pipeline deal with Iran. Exhaustive three-year nuclear treaty negotiations
between the United States and India are utterly stalled. If the treaty is not
presented to Congress in September, it will be dead.
Russia and China have repeatedly said that they see no nuclear weapons danger
in Iran. Besides the tension over the pending treaty with the United States,
India has little to say, since it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty, as Iran is. The skepticism of these nations is yet another reason why
support for an Iranian attack is evaporating.
So the Bush administration is hoisted with its own petard. Whatever the more
hawkish denizens of Washington want to do to Iran, they are not going to get
the international support necessary for their desired action.
The most obvious alternative for the United States is to engage with Iran diplomatically.
This is particularly difficult for the Bush administration because of its carefully
burnished tough-guy approach. When Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
William J. Burns merely appeared at the negotiating table with European Union
members and Iran for the first time, the right-wing media reaction was swift
and vitriolic. Critics on the right, including two editorials in one week on
the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page, accused the Bush
administration of "capitulation" to Iran.
Nevertheless, international conditions with Russian, China, and India may force
expansion of this diplomatic approach, regardless of right-wing reaction.
The irony is that talking to Iran could be easy if the Bush administration
would just relax. All the Iranians want for real talks to begin is to be treated
as equals at the negotiating table, and to start the talks with no preconditions.
This, too, is what Russia, India, and China want – not only for Iran, but for
themselves as well.
The Bush crowd, however, is determined to patronize and insult everyone. During
the current conflict in Georgia, Washington has implied that Russia is "not
yet" part of the international community. The Bush administration coerced
and threatened India over its nuclear program and the oil pipeline deal with
Iran. China has been treated somewhat more gently, but the Chinese, too, chafe
at criticisms of their environmental record, politics toward Tibet, and international
dealings in the Sudan and elsewhere, which they see as hypocritical and intrusive.
When it comes to Iran, all three countries have signaled that they've had enough
of Washington's bullying. If, however, the United States decides to treat Iran
with mutual respect at the negotiating table, it might discover not only a way
out of the impasse in the Middle East but improved relations with other key
countries around the world.
Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy in Focus.