Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?
by Jonathan Singer, Sun Sep 02, 2007 at 12:28:57 PM EDT
Over at Open Left, Matt Stoller takes a jab at Barack Obama for calling for introducing legislation that would require large corporations making large investments in Iran's energy industry ($20 million or more) to divest themselves of those investments. The basic theory, as best I can tell, is that by applying pressure on Iran, Obama and others are playing directly into the hands of those who are making a push to go to war, just as those who conceded that Iraq was a threat but were not in favor of a U.S. military invasion helped make it easier for the Bush administration to lead the cause for war. In short, Matt writes, "With the neoconservatve elites pushing for war with Iran, moves like this are unbelievably dangerous."
In the most broad terms, I have held a fear closely related to the one that Matt mentions. In fact, I brought up a similar, though not exactly the same, point in a question during my interview with John Edwards back in February.
The fear - and you brought it up - is that by even conceding that military options may need to be used that that may make it easier because even buying into the general debate over Iran - similar to, let's say, the debate over Social Security; by saying that it's a crisis it would have made it easier for President Bush to privatize it - just the same, by conceding there's an immediate crisis with Iran it makes it easier to go after Iran.
There is a key distinction here, however. There is a great deal of room between raising the possibility of waging war against Iran and talking about ways to change Iran's actions using the diplomatic tools at America's disposal. In some ways, this reflects the fundamental difference between what I view as a progressive foreign policy stance and a neoconservative one: Talking about war and talking about diplomacy are not the same thing, even if both have similar ends in mind (in this case getting different policy outcomes out of Iran).
To take two examples, by and large those calling for divestiture from China and potentially the boycotting of the Beijing Olympics next summer in order to force the Chinese government to end its support for the Sudanese government are not looking to join the few who would still like to see America go to war with "red" China. Likewise, few of those who participated in the divestiture movement against South Africa wanted to see American forces move into the country to help end Apartheid. No. In both of these cases, divestiture, as well as other diplomatic efforts, were and are alternatives to war, not accelerants to war.
One might argue that divestiture from the Iranian energy industry is not the right policy to engage in at this juncture, that ceding our position in Iran to China or Europe would have negative ramifications in the long run. I'm not making that argument, though one could argue that economic engagement would be better than a lack thereof. But to say that empowering the American government to stop investing in a company like Halliburton, which is using foreign subsidiaries to engage in commerce in Iran, helps lead the cause for war against Iran is, at least to me, a stretch.