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Friday, July 20

HR 1400 and Iran's Good Cop Bad Cop routine

Today, Reuters reported that the call for more Iran sanctions has been shelved until September, on the hope that Iran will improve their cooperation with IAEA inspectors.

Translation: Washington needs time to horse trade with Moscow with the goal of Russia getting behind tougher sanctions on Iran.

Moscow, however, is bent out of shape about -- well, they're bent out of shape about many US actions -- but right now they're especially concerned about a bill wending its way through Congress that seeks to punish countries that do business with Iran. Russia does big business with Iran.
The Iran Counter Proliferation Act of 2007 (HR 1400), introduced by Democrat Tom Lantos in March, aims to increase economic pressure on Iran by eliminating President George W. Bush's ability to waive sanctions against foreign companies that invest in the country's energy industry. The bill would also restrict US nuclear cooperation with countries such as Russia that assist Iran's nuclear and weapons programs. [...]

The legislation would also reimpose import sanctions on certain Iranian exports to the United States, such as foodstuffs and Persian carpets, and call for the Bush administration to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization. [...]

HR 1400 is just one of several bills in Congress and [US] state legislatures to respond to a grassroots campaign calling for divestment in companies that do business with countries that the State Department considers state sponsors of terrorism.

In the past year, state lawmakers in California, Missouri, Florida and New Jersey have introduced bills that specifically seek to ban investment in Iran's oil and natural-gas infrastructure. The "terror-free" investment movement -- spearheaded by the neo-conservative think-tank Center for Security Policy -- aims to force mutual funds, pension funds and endowments to pull their investments from international companies that do business with Iran.

The divestment effort has also gained attention because of the involvement of pro-Israel interest groups. The "Divest Iran" campaign was one of the main messages delivered at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention in Washington in March
.(1)
The terror-free investment movement is an idea whose time has come but it's on a collision course with the State Department and White House:
... officials within the State Department appear resistant to any legislation that may undermine the executive branch's power and direction over US foreign policy.

"If the focus of the United States' effort is to sanction our allies and not sanction Iran, that may not be the best way to maintain this very broad international coalition that we have built up since March of 2005," Under Secretary Nicholas Burns told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March, regarding HR 1400.

Similar sanctions against Iran were recently slipped into a 2008 defense appropriations bill in the Senate, and were met with similar resistance.

"While these proposals are certainly well intended, they could have significant counterproductive policy implications," said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmitt, during a speech at the Institute for Near East Policy in May.

While the Bush administration appears confident it can persuade countries such as Russia to support stiffer sanctions against Iran, the critical question will be how much congressional legislation will complicate the Bush administration's relationship to key international players and what that will portend for US "diplomacy" toward Iran. (1)
The problem with the "very broad international coalition" organized by the US is that it's not been effective. Tehran has continued their Fight Fight, Talk Talk strategy while making token gestures of cooperation with the IAEA. And they've set up the IRGC and Iran's president as the bad cop, with a string of self-proclaimed Iranian moderates playing good cop. The latter run around the world assuring anyone who will listen that if the international coalition will just give Tehran breathing room, Iran is ready to give up their nuclear weapons program.

I'm not sure that tougher sanctions against Iran would be productive because I don't know whether Iran's supreme leader has all his marbles; there are some indications he doesn't.

I worry about the Supreme Leader's mental condition partly because he persists in overlooking the one screamingly obvious solution to Iran's problem with the international coalition.

If I ran Iran, I would see the US effort in Iraq as the means for Iran to control the pot in the nuclear poker game. I would throw troops and treasure at helping the Coalition stop the insurgency and al Qaeda in Iraq. I would do everything in my power to bring peace in Iraq. And I'd make official what Tehran has already done unofficially, which is recognize Israel:

Iran has launched a state-run international 24 hour news satellite TV station, Press TV, with the aim of countering the very distinct impression that wherever you find trouble in the world, Iran is also there. The point of interest is that Press TV refers to Israel as "Israel," instead of "the Zionist entity" as other Iran-run media outlets do.

So if I ran Iran and I were determined to keep on building a nuke, I would finesse the international coalition by putting teeth in the good cop. But all we've gotten so far from Iran's good cop is hot air.

With regard to sanctions, they operate on the assumption that the targeted leaders make defense decisions out of a rational self-interest. If the decisions are rational, the threat of great suffering and unrest in the target country brought about by sanctions can pressure the leaders into concessions.

But if we believe Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the goal of the Iranian regime is not to serve the people or even to survive but to facilitate the return of the Mahdi -- the prophesied redeemer of Islam. From his viewpoint chaos and war expedite the Mahdi's appearance. Maddy has been pretty specific in indicating that sowing chaos is his goal as Iran's president.

So one question is whether Ahmadinejad really believes what he says about helping along the Mahdi's return. The bigger question is what kind of supreme leader would tolerate a president whose foreign policy amounts to apocalypse.

It ranges from unproductive to extremely dangerous to play Chicken with a madman because his decisions are not shaped by rational self interest. Look at Saddam Hussein's response to UN sanctions: instead of changing his ways, he heaped more punishment on the majority of Iraqis, who did not overthrow him. More to the point, Saddam played Iraq's oil card; this prompted several governments to circumvent the sanctions.

So, despite the crippling sanctions, Saddam's regime managed to survive and continue work on building a nuclear weapon, even though the project was transferred to Libya for intended completion.

There is much to suggest that Tehran's leaders would also play the oil card, and simply transfer suffering arising from tougher sanctions to the general populace. And even if better relations arise between Russia and the US during the pause, I can't find indication that Moscow would support sanctions that actually isolate Iran.
In February, Russian officials confirmed that Russia had delivered more than US$700 million worth of air-defense systems to help protect Iran's nuclear sites from attack, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

"We don't think Iran should feel itself encircled by enemies," Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Arab satellite news station Al-Jazeera. "The Iranian people and the Iranian leadership should feel they have friends in the world." (1)
I think the most the US can glean during the pause is Russia agreeing to more token sanctions against Iran, which will leave us in September pretty much where we are now.

1) Double edge to US sanctions bid on Iran by Khody Akhavi, Inter-Press Service, via Asia Times.
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