Back in the spring, and several times since then, President Obama suggested that if progress hasn’t been made in the talks with Iran, he’d move toward harsher measures, including what Secretary of State Clinton has called “crippling sanctions.” That time is drawing near, and assorted hawks are clamoring now for Obama to put up or shut up. “You said you’d get tough with Iran,” they’re saying. “The time is now.”
Of course, the time isn’t now. After the October 1 session in Geneva, where some limited success was achieved, the talks have stalled, exactly as I (and many others) predicted. Iran’s internal politics is muddled, and neither the Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, nor President Ahmadinejad, are in a position to strike a deal with the Great Satan just now. They’re under attack from conservatives and reformists opposed to the Oct. 1 deal, which would have sent the bulk of Iran’s enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing, and the anti-Ahmadinejad opposition is showing renewed signs of strength, as evidenced by this week’s round of demonstrations by students and others.
But, in spite of the apparent consensus among the big powers – which produced a tough new resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month – there’s zero chance that either Russia or China will support anything like the embargo on refined oil and gasoline that Obama, in the past, has said he supports. And other key countries, such as India, which has good relations with Iran, and the United Arab Emirates, through which much of Iran’s gasoline imports are transshipped, aren’t likely to back sanctions either. The very best Obama could get, if he goes to the UN Security Council for yet another round of sanctions, is another symbolic set of sanctions that have no force at all.
Despite that, the stupid season is starting.
In front of the stupid parade is Representative Howard Berman. For most of the year, Berman has been huffing and puffing about pushing forward a bill that would enable the president to impose the sort of “crippling sanctions” that Clinton wants. (Even though, of course, unilateral sanctions by the United States, without Russia or China, will hardly be crippling.) Earlier in the year, despite huge pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Berman refused to move his own bill ahead, in deference to Obama’s diplomatic effort to engage Iran. Now, concluding that diplomacy has failed, Berman, who pushed his bill through committee at the end of October, is demanding that the House of Representatives pass the bill next week.