Back in the Bush

Time for Obama to call his opponents' bluff on Iran


Back in the Bush
by jamal.abdi

With Republicans now sharing the burden of governing in the next Congress, President Barack Obama has an opportunity to define the terms of the Iran debate instead of spending two more years capitulating to a Democratic Congress worried about appearing weak or out of sync with hardliners on the Iran issue.

For a president who ran on the promise of fighting the "smallness" of Washington's political discourse that is unequipped for the immensity of the challenges America faces, few issues suffer more from that "smallness" than the Iran debate. In Washington, when in doubt, Iran saber rattling always seems to pay -- and the implications for our Iran policy could not be more disastrous. Obama had offered the promise of fighting this paradigm and supporting a new strategy of engagement, which is the only effective means to resolve the nuclear issue, address the human rights situation, and create space for pro-democracy activists in Iran.

Unfortunately, instead of fighting the Bush paradigm that rewards policymakers on the basis of bellicosity towards Iran, Obama has by and large perpetuated a political metric that defines success on Iran only in terms of pressure. Only if Obama raises the consequences of the dire alternative to a successful engagement strategy -- war with Iran -- and stakes out a new path to create his own political space for diplomacy, can the president effectively navigate the new reality in Congress and pursue a successful Iran agenda.

The picture for Obama in Congress is bleak enough, but particularly so on Iran. Bipartisan Iran sanctions advanced in the Democratic Congress imposed significant new restrictions on the president and give the Republicans significant ammunition to undermine Obama. Opportunities to hold the president's feet to the fire regarding enforcement of unilateral sanctions on China and Russia will not be ignored, and the president will be punished for failing to get "tough enough" on Iran, despite his many efforts to do just that. By failing to realign the metrics for success, and by allowing the outgoing Democratic Congress to undermine his political and policy flexibility, Obama and the Democrats in the 111th Congress have handed Republicans a valuable tool with which to bludgeon the president in the 112th.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the incoming House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman, has been a consistent Bush-esque Iran demagogue who has fiercely opposed any engagement efforts and, as a strong advocate for the sanctions regime against Cuba, has argued stringently for a similar regime against Iran. She is also an ardent supporter of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a pro-war Iranian Marxist group that, in spite of being designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department, manages to maintain an extremely active presence on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, nearly fifty Republicans endorsed a resolution this past summer expressing support for Israeli military strikes against Iran -- signaling a dangerous willingness to take on the president and the U.S. military leadership on the issue of Israeli strikes and potential war. While Ros-Lehtinen has not signed on to that resolution, Dan Burton (R-IN) did, and he may become the Middle East Subcommittee Chairman in the next Congress.

Meanwhile, while Democrats will retain a narrow majority in the Senate, Obama's old seat will be filled by Mark Kirk, a perennial Iran saber-rattler who played a leading role in advancing sanctions that he argued should punish ordinary Iranians. Evan Bayh's Senate seat will be reclaimed by Dan Coats (R-IN) who has warned that, for Iran, "The only option now is potential military action if we're going to stop this."

The Senate scenario is troubling given that it took an eleventh hour effort by the administration, working with John Kerry, to halt an effort by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-TX) to sneak Iran sanctions through the chamber last December. Kyl attempted to circumvent regular procedure to pass the bill and undermine Obama's outreach at the U.N. to assemble multilateral sanctions. While the administration's efforts to hold off Kyl were successful then, the stakes for procedural games will be even higher now under a razor-thin Senate majority.

But Obama's troubles with the next Congress on Iran may come from his own caucus as well. It has been Democrats who have offered new sanctions legislation that threaten to consign Obama to a "pressure-only track" by further eliminating his flexibility and closing opportunities for engagement. Among these proposals, Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) introduced a bill just prior to the elections that would remove the president's ability to approve the export of civilian aircraft parts for humanitarian purposes to Iran. This would revoke yet another tool the president has for negotiations, not to mention the humanitarian implications that denying spare parts has for the innocent Iranians who must take to the skies, despite Iran's abysmal civilian flight record. But Sherman also subscribes to the notion that sanctions must punish ordinary Iranians.

To pro-war demagogues, it is of little consequence that Obama is the first U.S. president to implement unilateral Congressional Iran sanctions against a foreign company. While Democrats may tout this as evidence of Obama's success on Iran, it is a pyrrhic victory. In spending the past year focused on sanctions, the president failed to seize opportunities to capitalize on negotiations that could have created measurable progress on the Iran issue -- including the removal of significant stockpiles of uranium from Iran, a potential reduction in Iran's enrichment levels, and, most importantly, the opening for ongoing negotiations that hold the only opportunity for success. Instead, the administration and the Democrats have been stuck with touting the suffering of ordinary people in Iran as evidence of successful "pressure" against the country.

Some, like Sarah Palin, Elliott Abrams, and even David Broder, have advocated that the best approach the president can take would be to abandon his principles and run to the right of Republicans on Iran. Broder suggested the president should cynically spend the next two years "orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs" to boost the U.S. economy. Palin has suggested that a sound reelection strategy for Obama would be to bomb Iran. None of these proposals offer solutions to our problems, but are endemic to a broken political discourse that Obama must fight head on.

The lesson from the last two years on Iran vis-a-vis Congress is that going along with the hawkish approach has earned little for Obama domestically. Far from creating political openings to pursue real progress for a potential peaceful resolution, an absence of strong presidential leadership has generated just enough political space to ensure that engagement opportunities are suffocated -- not just talks, but promises like the licensing of internet software and hardware, and the expansion of educational exchanges for Iranian students.

Because Obama has failed to set the terms of the debate on Iran, the administration finds itself trapped. Even the upcoming talks with Iran are now being construed by White House spokespersons as "pressure". The so-called "dual track" approach has ebbed into an approach focused solely on pressure, because this is supposed to be politically palatable. But if Obama is standing behind a podium in September 2012 across from Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin, and the criteria for a successful Iran policy is ‘who can be most confrontational', the candidate willing to spew the most insane, bellicose, and counterproductive Iran tirade wins the debate. And no matter how far Obama is willing to run in this direction, he will face a challenger who is more than willing to run even further.

In failing to establish any alternative criteria for progress on the Iran issue other than pressure, the administration risks continuing to perpetuate the Bush paradigm on Iran and accepting a measurement for success that, regardless of reality, only plays into the hands of Obama's pro-war, anti-engagement opponents. It would be disastrous for Obama to embrace the 2002 Democratic foreign policy strategy, when they adopted a Bush-light approach and supported the Iraq war out of fear. It wasn't until Democrats developed a strong message against the Iraq war in 2006 that they reclaimed Congress. And it wasn't until a presidential candidate staked out his own paradigm and established his own political space through leadership on his anti Iraq-war principles that ultimately a Democrat reclaimed the White House.

Article first appeared on

Jamal Abdi is policy director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).


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Admire really an admire article, It's have have a great stuff oof infrmation. I will imphasize to this article. My curiosity to learn more on this topic. Thancks for sharing it. I really appreciate.

International School in Bangalore

Mola Nasredeen

Again, Israelies and their lackies are pushing United States

by Mola Nasredeen on

to attack Iran. The winds of war is blowing in Tel Aviv and Washinton and media (AP, Time, etc) is reporting it too. They have been encouraged by their success in electing reactionary rightwing politicians to US congress.

Only the ones who are blinded by hatred or the ones who are Israeli mouthpiece on this website don't see it. This group includes the paid Zionist agent (s), Zionist groupies and Iranian hating Iranians. Iranian Americans that I know are against any war by anybody against Iran. 






the appeasers are right

by shushtari on

back at it


where the heck is that idiot, jimmy the moron carter, to cry for human rights now????!???

interesting how the american public thoroughly kicked the lefties' asses this past tuesday.....

I guess they never learn LOL


I'm searching for Jamal's agenda in this nonsense ( sanctions ?

by bushtheliberator on

  Is the IRI waiting for O-Bambi to save us all from the deadly Christian Right warmongers, and then,to win the IRI's hearts with his charms ?

I ain't buyin' it.The US has never had a useful military option in Iran, and the IRI thrives on the political fruits of its belligerence.

Sectry,ofD, Gates just rebuffed Bibi's request for  threats of US military attacks on Iran. Is this just about sanctions ?


masoudA: "Some never learn." too true! you are one of them


the statement should apply to Iran war supporters like you too!



by masoudA on

Some never learn.   didn't you learn anything from the Original IR lobby pet - Hooshang Amir Ahmadi?  He want back to Iran to attend AN Sandis party and he was rejected!!  your ending will not be any better.   Be sure to watch Agha Hooshang in the last episode of Parazit - it may help you.  

Let me make a prediction on Hooshang khan - he will lose his job of university teaching on Iranian Studies (or something like - in becoming choob do sar tala !!   If you know what I mean. 


Good luck agha jamal - are you taking his courses by any chance?


Sargord Pyrooz

by Doctor mohandes on

Will you promise to leave this site for good, If we take your advice?:)))))))

have earned two post docs and working on the third one!


fully agreed






Vildemose: totally agree, nice analysis and comment

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One thing though, Americans seem to be suffering from an acute case of amnesia. The blood of hundred of thousands of Iraqis and American soldiers have not dried up yet and there is a talk and cheering about yet another illegal, immoral and criminal war.

And of course with AIPAC push and influence, the war drums will be loud and clear as those warmongers know nothing but greed thru death and destructions.




by vildemose on

The Military-Industrial-Israel Complex is baaack.

The victory of the War Party– … ooops, I mean the Republican Party– at the polls on November 2 was sure to embolden Israeli hawks, since the latter are essentially rightwing Republicans whenever they visit the United States. And, so many of the new members of the House of Representatives are Christian Zionists who appear to believe that Jehovah hasn’t smited the poor Palestinians (I mean Amalekites) sufficiently to ensure the return of baby Jay-sus. More smiting, they say, is in order.

The harbingers of emboldening were clearly visible in Halifax, Canada, when Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak spoke there on Saturday. He decried the ineffectiveness of economic sanctions on Iran in deterring its nuclear enrichment program, making a glib assumption that ..



From: Juan Cole

by vildemose on

Graham said that in the war of the US on Iran, the US military should “not to just neutralize their nuclear program, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard, in other words neuter that regime.”

Graham is a vet and usually is well informed on military affairs, but this remark demonstrates an alarming ignorance about Iran alongside an alarming hole in the center of his soul that makes him want to launch aggressive wars and kill tens of thousands of strangers to prove his manhood.

Iran has no air force to speak of, nor much of a navy. The Iranian military budget is around the same as that of Singapore or Norway, and is the smallest per capita in the Persian Gulf save for the United Arab Emirates. The Revolutionary Guards are a poorly equipped national guard. Revolutionary Iran’s strength has all along been asymmetrical, and the US military is simply not capable of ‘neutering’ Iran’s capabilities in this regard. Graham’s musings are so inaccurate in their view of Iran’s military as to be comical, which is why the Iranian foreign minister speculated that ol’ Lindsey was just joshin’ us.

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To S P You Wrote:

by G. Rahmanian on

"You come here to IC commenting on American politics, but with your lack of proper English skills you only serve to insult readers with your dumb foreigner ways.""Don't be so stereotypically meiser in your ways: hire a proofreader."First of all it is "miser" and not "meiser." Also you have used it as an adjective whereas it is a noun. The adjective is "miserly." That means you should have written: "Don't be miserly."AND don't forget the use of indefinite article "a."Now let's get back to the main topic!!!

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SPink Jaan Why don't you practice what you preach ?

by Darius Kadivar on

"America installed by daddy ..." 

No one told you it's "my" and not "by" ?



By the way Fred Speaks Better Persian than you and me !

Sargord Pirouz

Another Fred mistake

by Sargord Pirouz on

The writer at "Fred" writes "passed" where he/she obviously meant to write "past". 

When are you Israelis at "Fred" going to bite the bullet, take a collective pay cut and hire a proofreader?  

You come here to IC commenting on American politics, but with your lack of proper English skills you only serve to insult readers with your dumb foreigner ways.

Don't be so stereotypically meiser in your ways: hire a proofreader. 


Maybe you should go back to Iran

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And advocate on their foreign policy. It would save the annoyance of Americans.Obama gave plenty room to negotiate with the terrorist regime who would NOT even discuss the Nuclear program.

Stop the B.S.


Expired NIAC lobby ploy

by Fred on

NIAC lobbyist states:

Unfortunately, instead of fighting the Bush paradigm that rewards policymakers on the basis of bellicosity towards Iran, Obama has by and large perpetuated a political metric that defines success on Iran only in terms of pressure.”

That is a patently erroneous statement typical of NIAC lobby and its conjoined twin CASMII lobby.

President Obama offered the Islamist Rapist Republic an open hand, without any conditions to talk about everything and anything. A lobbying position NIAC lobby and its conjoined twin CASMII lobby had taken for the longest time.

The Islamist Rapists let that extended hand of friendship dangling in the air for over a year and still have not unclenched their fist.

The time for NIAC lobby and its conjoined twin CASMII lobby to overlook what the IRR does and shift the onus on the American President, as they did during Bush, is long over. Use a new ploy NIAC lobby, this one is way passed its expiration.