Push and Shove

Republicans, Israel and Iran


Push and Shove
by Trita Parsi

The rise of the Arab masses has pushed Iran out of the headlines -- for now. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose theatrics rarely pass unnoticed, has lately failed to grab the attention of the U.S. media. America's attention has instead turned toward Egypt, Syria and Libya.

This is likely to change in the next few months. Not as a result of any particular developments in Iran or between the United States and Iran, but because of the 2012 presidential elections. As the Republican presidential hopefuls turn their criticism toward President Obama and not each other, Iran will likely be one of the few foreign policy issues the Republicans will pursue.

Though their campaigns will center on the economy, there are four factors that will drive the GOP to make Iran one of its main foreign policy issues.

First, Iran unites all factions of the Republican Party (save the Ron Paul contingent) at a time when all other major foreign policy issues tend to divide them. For instance, the Republicans have been all over the map on the most important foreign policy development of the year: the Arab Spring.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee criticized Obama for not standing by Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, for instance, while others argued that Obama had been too slow in supporting the demonstrators. The Republican fault lines were even clearer on Obama's intervention in Libya.

On Iran, however, there is unity. The Republican remedy is simply to up the ante and get tougher -- no matter what. Whatever hawkish line Obama adopts, the Republicans will find a way to "outhawk" him. As the memory of the Iraq invasion slowly fades away, Republican strategists calculate, the American public will return to rewarding toughness over wisdom at the ballot boxes.

Second, just as Iran unites the Republicans, it divides the Democrats. As I describe in my forthcoming book on Obama's Iran diplomacy, "A Single Roll of the Dice," part of the reason Obama's engagement with Iran was so short-lived (beyond all the challenges the Iranians themselves presented) was the pressure he faced early on from the Democrat-controlled Congress to abandon diplomacy and pursue sanctions.

Much of it had to do with Congress' sensitivity to Israeli concerns. And much of it was a reaction to the Iranian government's brutal human rights abuses following the 2009 election debacle. As a top Obama administration official explained to me, "skepticism in Congress against our strategy turned to outright hostility" after the 2009 elections. Congress' honeymoon with Obama had not even begun before Democrats abandoned him on Iran.

Third, the Republicans believe that Iran provides an opportunity to portray Obama as weak. Glossing over the many differences between Iran, on the one hand, and Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Libya on the other, the Republicans will accuse Obama of abandoning the Iranian people by not taking sides in the 2009 election dispute. But with the developments in the Arab world -- and Obama's more interventionist response to those conflicts -- the Republicans will argue (mistakenly) that a similar posture by the U.S. in 2009 would have ensured the downfall of the Iranian theocracy.

Moreover, with Iran's nuclear program progressing in spite of Obama's limited diplomacy and his crippling, indiscriminate sanctions, the Republicans will present a narrative that states that diplomacy was tried and failed, sanctions are tough but insufficient, and the only remaining option is some form of military action. Yet, Obama has been too weak to pursue that option. According to this (false) narrative, the president's weakness jeopardizes not only American interests, but also the security of Israel. This narrative, it must be noted, is not so much to provoke military action but to portray Obama as too weak to order it.

Which brings us to the fourth factor, which permeates all the others: Israel. Beyond dividing the Democrats and portraying Obama as weak, focusing on Iran also enables the Republicans to cast Obama as insensitive to Israel. From the very outset, Israel opposed Obama's diplomacy with Iran.

"We live in a neighborhood in which sometimes dialogue ... is liable to be interpreted as weakness," then-Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said during an interview with Israel Radio only 24 hours after congratulating President-elect Obama on his historic election victory in 2008. Asked specifically if she supported discussions between the United States and Iran, she left no room for interpretation: "The answer is no," she declared.

Once Obama took office, Israel consistently pushed back against his engagement policy by calling for artificial deadlines for diplomacy, by pushing for sanctions before talks had begun and by setting unreachable objectives for the diplomacy.

Though Obama eventually adopted the line on Iran favored by Israel, his many clashes with the Netanyahu government over this issue cast a dark shadow over U.S.-Israeli relations that likely will not be undone in time for the elections. And the Republicans are poised to exploit it. Just this week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a jab at Obama in an Op-Ed in the Jerusalem Post. "It was a mistake [by] President Obama to distance himself from Israel and seek engagement with the hostile regimes in Syria and Iran," Perry wrote.

Most likely, Obama will take the bait. Instead of defending his diplomacy and pointing out that no U.S. president has been closer to resolving the nuclear issue than he has, he will likely adopt the line that his limited diplomatic effort paved the way for far greater international buy-in for crippling sanctions than George W. Bush ever managed to secure.

Though this line of argument is technically correct -- Obama's attempt at diplomacy helped unite the permanent members of the Security Council against Iran and prevented Tehran from taking advantage of divisions within the council -– it suffers from several weaknesses.

First, sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy and likely slowed the growth of its nuclear program, but it has not changed Tehran's strategic calculations or shifted the trajectory of the program. In short, the nuclear clock has kept ticking. This plays straight into the Republican narrative that neither Obama's diplomacy nor his sanctions have succeeded. With a few more alarmist reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the White House's spin on having contained Iran will fall apart.

Second, by seeking to play up the hawkish aspects of his Iran policy, the Obama administration line permits the Republicans to set the metrics for success. However hawkish and pro-Israel the White House portrays its policy, there will always be a Republican willing to up the ante even further. If Obama permits hawkishness to be the criteria for success in the Iran debate, then he will set himself up for failure -- even if he is technically right.

Democrats have failed in this game before. In the 1990s, Republicans in Congress dismissed the sanctions on Saddam Hussein's Iraq and forced President Bill Clinton to adopt additional measures, including making "regime change" official U.S. policy and providing funding for the now-disgraced Iraqi "opposition" groups through the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Clinton's attempts to push back against this pressure by out-hawking the Republicans only helped create a false binary choice between accepting a nuclear Saddam and taking military action. The parallels with developments with Iran today are plenty.

In spite of the Republicans' recent gains, the candidate that stands the greatest chance of defeating Obama 2012 is Obama '08. Instead of running away from his record and betraying the foreign policy values he promised to bring to the White House in 2008, Obama should restate the case for diplomacy and point out its benefits and virtues, including the superiority of diplomacy in addressing Iran's flagrant human rights violations. And point to Iraq to remind the American public of the unacceptability of failure when it comes to diplomacy.

As Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told me recently in a sharp reminder of what the end game of the hawks is: "If diplomacy fails and the economic sanctions fail, [then] everybody understands that all options are on the table."

First published in salon.com

Trita Parsi is the 2010 Recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the author of the forthcoming book, "A Single Role of the Dice -- Obama's Diplomacy with Iran" (Yale University Press 2012).


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more from Trita Parsi

Re: Vo Reason - The damage IRI has inflicted is much more


than any good it has done. yes, people are more educated, but to what jobs? People have no AZADI. I left in 1976, and I remember, my only problem with the Shah was not having the freedom of speech; beliveing that without that as a human, I have nothing.

With all the damage this regime has inflicted upon Iran and Iranians, how can one think of a few good here and there? You are asking us to say the guy who raped you, gouged your eyes, and cut off your arms; we should thank him for not cutting off our legs! I think, you belong to one of those families in the north of tehran who are well connected, or not, but doing well with all the corruptions around you. You can afford to buy anything you want and have your villa, and nice house in tajrish, and nice cars ....  You are not feeling the pain of average iranians. Otherwise, you would not ask us to see what good the regime has done!

Yes, the regime has made many BISAVADHARA who have rish, rich! This regime has bankrupted our culture, religion, moral values, our banks, our integrity, respect, and raped our country, our sons and daughters! Oh, yes, it stood up against the US! Great! Let's not talk about destroying our natural treasures, stealing our oil money, and creating IRG mafia, and molla mafia, etc. I think, I am going to stop here, and let you talk about all the goods it has done. For me, the glass is 90% empty. Did I mention all those braved iranians who got killed in the iran-iraq war and our prisons? Of course, we sure have freedom of speech. Prostitution? Don't get me started! 

In case you didn't know, yes my brother is one of those famous 1979 shahids. We brought this damn regime to power only to be betrayed by them for what we fought for. We were much better off with what we had, unfortunately.  


Can you guys tolerate anything ...

by VoiceOfReason on

I'm curious about those of you who just bash Trita and don't seem to be able to tolerate anything that you "think" is incorrect.

Is there anything the Islamic Republic of Iran has done that you can accept as being good? Surely you can't claim that in 30 years they haven't done some things right even if many things are not right.

It seems like those of you who claim that the IRI is evil etcetra can not tolerate anyone who is different than you.

It's dissapointing because you are exhibiting the very behavior you are condeming. Ironic.


The picture tells it all! Obama is all ears!


Now you know who is really running this country, in case you didn't know by now.



by Faramarz on


I think that Trita got his cue from Ahmadi!

If Ahmadi can come to the UN and announce plans to “administer the world” (“We want to put the world’s economy and politics in order, but we have only a limited time.")

I am damn sure that Trita can do the same with the US internal politics.

The boys are rocking and there is no stopping them now!


Wait, is NIAC/Trita now a US political analyst?

by bahmani on

First off, you never pitch your own book. Your agent and publicist does that. Or do you think you'll just save the fee? I mean jeez, learn from Reza Aslan for god's sake! You're never going to get invited to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart like this.

But I'm confused now, I thought NIAC was supposed to make Iran- I mean Iranian-Americans look good? You know write letters to Hollywood when they misspell Iran, or portray Iranians as programmers who drive taxis, in the movies instead of Professors who drive taxis.

Is Trita Paris (not spelled wrong) now so completely done and bored with with solving the problems of Iranians and Iran, that he has time to provide astute and in depth analyses on the US Political scene in advance of the 2012 election.

How sexy! How wonderful! And Hallelujah! Hey everybody, you can relax now! NIAC and Trita Paris are done with Iran, which means all our problems are solved! Now we can all get more depressed and participate in world politics!

Stick to Iran please! And it's problems before you go off trying to suggest you know anything about the rest of the world. The priority should be us right now God Dammit!

Because we aren't free!

I wonder what the political prisoners and student protesters in Evin think about your analysis of the Republican strategy to win the White House in 2012?

This is the constant problem I have with us Iranians who continuously profess to know everything about everything except don't dare say anything against Iran.

And these ones doth protest too much!

I'm really getting bored.

To read more bahmani posts visit: //brucebahmani.blogspot.com/


Of primary colors...

by پندارنیک on

Obama's pussyfootish favoritism for the Israelis  ( please help maintaining the proper distinction between the Jews and the state of Israel. Thank you ), takes me back to the Democratic primary in 2008, and his sudden rise over Hillary Rodham.........

A colorful wuss was badly need................and they found him in black................

I hope that I have not caused any interruption in our usual let's-write-about-the-writer-of-the-blog-instead-of-about-its-substance kinda punditry..............

hamsade ghadimi

get real vildie.  do you

by hamsade ghadimi on

get real vildie.  do you seriously think that he's a rich dude who set up an organization in d.c. to help the akhoonds stay in power?  just because of his conviction? it just doesn't add up.  he may get paid with genuine conviction.  he may get paid without conviction.  at any rate, he has to make hisr mortgage payment and pay his bills like everyone else.


dear Shazdeh: I don't one

by vildemose on

dear Shazdeh: I don't one needs to necessarily be paid by IRI. There could be a genuine conviction and deeply rooted ideological concern that compels Mr. Parsi to side with the IRI and in aiding its survival. 

Reform requires the consent of the corrupt

Shazde Asdola Mirza

Mr. Parsi: Do you get paid to lobby for IRI?

by Shazde Asdola Mirza on

You and NIAC seem to be bent on whitewashing the IRI ills, confronting its opposition, and lobbying for the lifting of pressures and sanctions.

Please come clean and clear, and let us know if you are being paid to lobby for IRI.

iraj khan

Telling it as it is...

by iraj khan on

This is Mr Parsi's style, free from holding back and self censorship in a sea of sharks dominated by Israel's mercenaries occupying the centers of power in the United States.


Love the Body Language ...

by Harpi-Eagle on

I didn't even read the article by Parsi, but I must say, I just love the body language of "The Jew" whispering to "Hossein", as if he's scolding his little boy.  I guess that's what they mean when they say "God's Chosen People" .

Payandeh Iran, our Ahuraie Fatherland

Tiger Lily

freaky fanatical

by Tiger Lily on

dominionists too.

 "be hot for the Lord"



Really Danny? All options?

by hass on

By "all options are on the table" does Danny Ayalon mean that recognizing Iran's inalienable, absolute, and sovereign right to have its own nuclear program is also an option on the table? Or is that one option that is NOT on the table because Israel won't accept it?


Mr. Parsi, is only trying

by vildemose on

Mr. Parsi, is only trying to divert readers' attention from Iran's real problems and the crimes committed by the ruthless regime in Tehran.

Hasn't this been always the case???

Reform requires the consent of the corrupt

G. Rahmanian

Ahmadinejad's Theatrics?

by G. Rahmanian on

Can the warmongering and hate speeches of Ahmadinejad who has called for the destruction of another state be reduced to mere theatrics? Mr. Parsi should also be reminded, once again, that violations of human rights in Iran did not start in June 2009. Such violations have been part and parcel of IR's domestic policies for more than three decades. By exaggerating the "hawkish" stance of certain American politicians, Mr. Parsi, is only trying to divert readers' attention from Iran's real problems and the crimes committed by the ruthless regime in Tehran.


A well argued piece....

by Bavafa on

There is no doubt that Republicans will twist and turn any situation to argue against Obama and as election is nearing, nothing is gives them more ammunition then grand brown nosing the Zionist side of the Israelis, especially with the upcoming event at the UN and Palestinians aspiration for their own nation. Of course Iran will be used in this act of brown nosing since it is Israelis perceived top threat.


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 



Twist and Shout!

by Faramarz on

Trita is losing it!

So the problem is not Rahbar or the good old folks at the Islamic Republic Regime who reject US and the West with every fiber of their DNA, but rather the usual suspects.

Trita should go and live in Iran for a few years, get to know the language, the culture, the Basij and Sepah and then write a book. He is completely clueless about the nature of this criminal regime.


Now what?

by Fred on

The lifetime president of NIAC lobby, who according to court documents has a cozy working relationship with various officials of the Islamist Rapist Republic (IRR), should expand on the “beyond all the challenges the Iranians themselves presented.”

He should explain what the Americans are to do when IRR refuses to shake Obama’s “extended hand of friendship” or his offer of “unconditional talk”?

Instead of shifting the blame, when is this lifetime president of NIAC lobby going to put the blame on IRR where it belongs?