Wednesday Iran Talking Points

from LobeLog: News and Views Relevant to U.S.-Iran relations for August 11th, 2010:

The Atlantic: Jeffrey Goldberg, in his long awaited cover story, claims that an Israeli unilateral attack on alleged Iranian nuclear facilities is inevitable if the United States and its allies fail to strike first. “I have come to believe that the administration knows it is a near-certainty that Israel will act against Iran soon if nothing or no one else stops the nuclear program; and Obama knows—as his aides, and others in the State and Defense departments made clear to me—that a nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat to the interests of the United States, which include his dream of a world without nuclear weapons,” writes Goldberg. (I responded to Goldberg’s article yesterday.)

The Washington Note: Steve Clemons offers his thoughts on Jeffrey Goldberg’s prediction that, “the likelihood of Israel unilaterally bombing Iran to curtail a potential nuclear weapon breakout capacity is north of 50-50.” Clemons writes that, “…doubts about the sanity and rationality of Iran’s leadership may be driving Israel’s leaders to abandon pragmatic rationality and serious scrutiny of costs and benefits as well. Is this all real? Or are both sides puffing up, acting like ‘crazy Ivans’, as part of a military strategy that could be bluff, or could be devastatingly severe?”

Foreign Policy: Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett argue that Goldberg’s case for a U.S. attack on Iran is, “even flimsier than the case Goldberg helped make for invading Iraq in 2002.” Normalizing U.S.-Iran and Israel-Iran relations would profoundly benefit Israel and the United States, say the Leveretts.

The Los Angeles Times: Paul Richter and Alexandra Sandels report that Iran told Lebanese officials that it will make up for the potential cutoff of U.S. aid to the Lebanese military. Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) decided to freeze military aid over concerns that such aid might be used against Israel.

Tuesday Iran Talking Points

from LobeLog: News and Views Relevant to U.S.-Iran relations for August 10th, 2010:

The Wall Street Journal: Former UN Ambassador and current AEI fellow John Bolton offers his views on Chinese “hostilities” to the US and its allies. Bolton says that reports of Chinese cooperation with US and European efforts to pass multilateral sanctions in the UN Security Council were “unrealistic spin” from the Obama administration. “But the truth is that China was never serious about tough sanctions. If anything, it is now likely to double down on its relationship with Iran, particularly with regard to oil and natural gas, in order to help Iran meet its domestic need for refined petroleum products,” writes Bolton.

The Los Angeles Times: Paul Richter reports that China, Russia, India and Turkey are resisting pressure from the EU and the U.S. to toughen UN sanctions with their own unilateral sanctions. All four countries have moved forward with trade and investment deals with Iran.

The New Yorker: Jon Lee Anderson interviews Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, opposition leaders and former congressman and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group Lee Hamilton. Anderson calls attention to the Iranian willingness to resume talks on the Brazil-Turkey deal to provide Iran with highly enriched uranium in exchange for half of its stock of low-enriched uranium. Hamilton warns that, ” “Since about three months ago, there is a discernible mood for military action,” and, “Obama is confronted with a very strong, very committed, very heartfelt opposition to Iran in Congress.”

Reuters: Yara Bayoumy reports that Iran has offered support to Lebanon’s army after last week’s clash on the Israeli-Lebanon border. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to visit Beirut next month.

The New York Times: Yeganeh June Torbati reports that more Iranians are studying in the U.S. than at any other time since 1994. Young Iranians are attracted to the superior schools and research financing available in the U.S.. Despite the high numbers of Iranian students attending U.S. universities, Iranians seeking to attend U.S. universities must go through some of the strictest visa procedures and are treated with suspicion when they return home. (Ali Gharib blogged last week on the challenges faced by young Iranians wishing to take English-language tests administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).)

Monday Iran Talking Points

from LobeLog: News and Views Relevant to U.S.-Iran relations for August 9th, 2010:

The Washington Note: Steve Clemons says that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a conflict that matters, “…far beyond the Israeli and Palestinian populations and is a screaming, right now challenge.” As the United States remains committed to remaking Afghanistan and Iraq the urgency of resolving one of the region’s biggest historical grievances has never been higher. Clemons suggest that President Barack Obama, “sees the vital and obvious linkage between resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict over Palestine and any sensible strategy rolling back and/or containing Iran’s nuclear and regional hegemonic pretensions.”

The Wall Street Journal: The WSJ editorial board says that the sanctions against Iran are beginning to work but additional sanctions are needed and the United States and Europe should offer more assistance to Iran’s democracy movement. The op-ed also suggests that Obama should invite dissident Iranian exiles to the Oval Office. Now, argues the authors, is not the time to drop sanctions in exchange for negotiations with Tehran. “The risk now is that the modest success of the sanctions will lure the Administration into dropping some of them in exchange for another round of temporizing and inevitably useless negotiations with Tehran,” they argue.

The Weekly Standard: Stephen F. Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn call attention to documents in the Wikileaks dump which claim that Iran is supporting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The authors say that reports of Iranian activity in Afghanistan show Obama’s August 2nd statement the United States and Iran have a “mutual interest” in fighting the Taliban to be a dangerous fantasy. Hayes and Joscelyn seem to willfully ignore previous passed-up opportunities for rapprochement with Iran.

The New York Times: David Sanger reports that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made comments indicating that sanctions against Iran have had a greater economic impact than anticipated by Iran’s government. The administration’s statements appeared aimed at bringing Tehran back to the negotiating table but, Sanger points out, “Neither Mr. Obama nor Mrs. Clinton defined with any precision what steps Iran’s leaders would need to take to build confidence that they were willing to negotiate.”

The Huffington Post: David Bromwich makes the case that the post 9/11 United States has developed a dangerous trend of always being at war. Obama, says Bromwich, is both withdrawing from Afghanistan more slowly than many would like and moving towards a military strike on Iran more slowly than many would prefer. “Will Iran become our third war of the moment? Sanctions which, Benjamin Netanyahu has said, should soon become ‘crippling sanctions,’ already have us in lockstep on that path,” says Bromwich. He warns that after the November midterm elections, “The Likud, in both Israel and America, may prove itself ready for action sooner than President Obama would like, just as the Tea Party picked up energy faster and harder than he looked for in the spring of 2009.” (Ali blogged on Bromwich’s article earlier today.)

Linkage Just Won’t Go Away

As discussed by Ali on Wednesday, attempts to deny a linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and broader U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East seem to be an ongoing theme of right-wing Israeli politicians and their supporters. But the “2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll” released by the Brookings Institution and Zogby International on Thursday indicates that linkage is a very important concept in understanding Arab public opinion about the U.S.. The poll’s results would seem to remove any doubt that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important factors determining Arab public opinion about the U.S.. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the poll found a direct link between Arab support for an Iranian nuclear program and the Obama administration’s failure to make progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jim Lobe wrote the poll up yesterday. He said:

Much of the disillusionment with Obama appears related to his failure to make progress in achieving a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, according to Telhami, who has conducted eight previous surveys of Arab opinion since 2000.

Asked what policies pursued by the Obama administration they were most disappointed with, 61 percent of respondents in the new poll identified the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That was more than twice the percentage of the next-most-cited example, Washington’s Iraq policy (27 percent).

“This is the prism through which Arabs view the Untied States,” Telhami said, referring to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Iran appears to have benefited, at least indirectly, from Arab disillusionment with Obama, the poll results suggested.

While a majority of respondents (55 percent) said they believe Tehran’s nuclear programme is aimed at developing weapons – a charge denied by Iran – nearly four out of five respondents (77 percent) said the country has the right to pursue the programme – a whopping increase of 24 percent since last year.

Of course none of this should come as any great surprise, and linkage has become an increasingly accepted way to view U.S.-policy in the Middle East after Gen. David Petraeus’s Senate testimony in March in which he stated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “…foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” and, “[t]he conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.”

Numerous pundits, academics and politicians have tried to deny that this linkage exists but, try as they might, facts on the ground make it very difficult to close the box which Petraeus, very publicly, opened this spring.

Eighty-six-percent of the poll’s respondents were “prepared for peace if Israel is willing to return all 1967 territories including East Jerusalem,” 39 percent held the belief that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved through negotiations, and only 16 percent believed it will end through war.

One has to wonder how U.S. interests are served by continuing to ratchet up tensions with Iran via “Sanctions Plus,” “Economic Warfare,” or chest-pounding threats of military strikes. As U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate and Iran, via its allies, exacerbates tensions between Israel and its neighbors, Arab public opinion will, if the trends in the poll have any predictive power, swing in Iran’s favor and make the Obama administration even less popular in the region. That isn’t good for Israel which, if Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren’s dire warnings are to be believed, might find itself in another war before the end of the summer, and it isn’t good for a U.S. administration which is trying to figure out a way to extract the country from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course all of this requires that you believe that there is a linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East. If you suspend your belief in that linkage, then anything goes.