The Third Rail
Dennis Ross, a devoted Zionist who spent twelve years stalling the peace process as US Ambassador to the Middle East, just penned a piece for Wapo offering a so-called "third option" that is really just another recipe for disaster.
With the Russians and Chinese seemingly determined to block sanctions, our efforts at the United Nations promise to evolve slowly while Iran presses ahead with its plans. If we stay on the same path, we will be left with two choices: accept the reality of Iran's nuclear weapons capability or take military action to set back its ambitions.Simply another disingenuous effort at negotiations to justify the coming carnage. No wonder he accomplished nothing in the Middle East.
Either outcome could prove disastrous.
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The problem with the current [US] policy is that it threatens costs that either aren't believable or are likely to pale in comparison with what the Iranians see themselves gaining with nuclear power.
But what if we could threaten collective sanctions that the Iranians would see as biting? What if those were combined with possible gains in terms of a deal on nuclear energy, economic benefits and security understandings if the Iranians would give up the nuclear program?
While one can argue that the Europeans were trying to negotiate something like this with the Iranians, they were never able to put together a package of credible sanctions and inducements, because the United States was not really a part of the effort. True, this country has coordinated with the British, French and Germans in the Bush second term. But a serious effort at raising the costs to the Iranians and offering possible gains has never been put together.
Why not now? Why not have the president go to his British, French and German counterparts and say: We will join you at the table with the Iranians, but first let us agree on an extensive set of meaningful - not marginal - economic and political sanctions that we will impose if the negotiations fail. Any such agreement also would need to entail an understanding of what would constitute failure in the talks and the trigger for the sanctions.
The Europeans always have wanted the Americans at the table. Agreeing on the sanctions in advance would be the price for getting us there. To be sure, the United States would focus as well on what could be provided to the Iranians. But the benefits have always been easier to agree on, particularly since meaningful sanctions will also impose a price on us. [US should be read as YOU and ME - not HIM]
Real economic sanctions would not just bite Iran and its ability to generate revenue, but also would drive up the price of oil. Our readiness to accept that risk at a time when high gasoline prices are becoming a domestic political issue would convey a very different signal about our seriousness to the Iranians - who presently don't fear sanctions because they think they have the world over a barrel.
There is no guarantee such an approach will work with Iran. This Iranian government may simply be determined to have nuclear weapons. If that is the case, and if President Bush is determined to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons - as he has said - we would still be better off having tried a direct negotiating option before resorting to what inevitably will be a difficult, messy use of force once again.
This is going to get very ugly, very fast.