When the Obama administration decided to move aggressively down the path of more sanctions on Iran, it was not because they thought it would work – they don’t – but because they had no idea what to do when U.S.-Iran talks broke down in late 2009. According to U.S. officials, the United States was simply trying to buy time: by going to the UN, they could make it look like they were doing something, and ease the pressure from hawks, neoconservatives, and the Israel lobby.
But as a direct result, the administration is now is deep conflict with two close allies, Turkey and Brazil. Those two countries, acting like adults when the United States began behaving like a petulant child, sought to continue the stalled diplomacy, to coax Iran back to the bargaining table. It worked. Brazil’s President Lula, visiting Tehran with Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, won a commitment from Iran to ship about half of its enriched uranium to Turkey, restarting the diplomatic process that ended last year when Iran first accepted a similar deal and then backed off.
Amazingly, the deal that Turkey and Brazil achieved was almost exactly the same as the one that was worked out by the United States and other world powers in Geneva on October 1. President Obama praised that accord, but now that he’s pushing for sanctions (that won’t work) his minions are denouncing the Brazil-Turkey agreement.
Yesterday, at Brookings, Secretary of State Clinton slammed Brazil:
"I don't know that we agree with any nation on every issue. And certainly we have very serious disagreements with Brazil's diplomacy vis-à-vis Iran. And we have told President Lula, and I've told my counterpart the foreign minister [Celso Amorim] that we think buying time for Iran, enabling Iran to avoid international unity with respect to their nuclear program, makes the world more dangerous, not less.'
"They [Brazilians] have a theory of the case, they're not just acting out of impulse. We disagree with it. So we go at it. We say well, we don't agree with that, we think that, that the Iranians are using you. And that we think it's time to go to the Security Council, and that it is only after the Security Council acts that the Iranians will engage effectively on their nuclear program."
Brazil and Turkey insisted that the deal with Iran is the right thing to do, defying Clinton’s criticism. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lula said:
"All the deadlines and dates are being met. We carried out everything they asked for."
And Erdogan added:
"The accord with Tehran was a diplomatic victory and those countries that criticize us are merely envious.”
They’re both right. That didn’t stop Thomas Friedman, the world’s worst columnist, from writing earlier this week in the New York Times that the Brazil-Turkey diplomacy was “as ugly as it gets.” He wrote:
“I confess that when I first saw the May 17 picture of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joining his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with raised arms — after their signing of a putative deal to defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons program — all I could think of was: Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?”
What’s ugly, Friedman, is arrogant, imperialist commentary like that.
Meanwhile, by insisting on useless sanctions with Iran, the Obama administration has deeply alienated two very important countries, making a mockery of Obama's pledge to elevate diplomacy and brideg-building as the cornerstone of U.S foreign policy. He's also used up a lot of political capital to drag Russia and China to support the U.S-led effort for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. As Robert Kagan, a neoconservative thinker noted this week in the Washington Post, President Bush managed to persuade Russia and China to vote for a UN sanctions resolution not once, but three times. Kagan is right, even if he's right for the wrong reasons. So Obama has alienated friends, given up political chips win over adversaries, and accomplished precisely nothing vis-a-vis Iran.