Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

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.

Tags: Barack Obama, Divestiture, Iran (all tags)



Obama's New Op-Ed on Divesting from Iran...

appeared this past Thursday in the New York Daily News.


by horizonr 2007-09-02 12:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

I am tired of the pessimistic, baby-boomer left-wing being such dupes in this fraud against Iran.

Cheney and company are planning to attck Iran. We have been fortunate that they have not done so while Congress has been on recess. The impotent left does not get this.

Those among the financial elite who know that their system is in a crisis want some kind of confrontation(preferably with Iran). The left-wing does not get this.

In reality, the financial system is disintegrating and globalisation has proven to be a failure, especially among the lower 80% income brackets. Much of  the left-wing is oblivious to this.

Forget about the propaganda about Iran. It is a fraud, just like the garbage against Iraq. Bush's speech in Reno to the American Legion last week was pure Cheney. It was also a fraud.

So while many contemplate what to do with Iran, the financial system, real estate bubble, the productive physical economy, and other debt bubbles continue to disintegrate.

by dantch 2007-09-02 02:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

Matt is a 29 year old Gen Yer like myself.  Just FTR.  That being said, he is dead wrong on this.

by yitbos96bb 2007-09-02 03:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

Short answer: yes, it's wrong.

I honestly think Obama, as President, would be less likely to get us into a shooting war with Iran than Hillary, as President, would be.  But the real danger is that Cheney will get us into a shooting war with Iran, and that's the danger any sentient politician, presidential candidate or not, must work against.

It is just foolish to imagine that Cheney's cabal will be appeased by "sanctions".  They want war.  They will spin calls for "sanctions" as evidence that war is necessary but those proposing "sanctions" are too wimpy to follow their own argument to its logical conclusion.  

Earlier in the summer I wrote to my Senators (Kennedy and Kerry) and to my Congressman (Markey) to tell them that I will hold them responsible if they allow Cheney and the neocons to get us into war with Iran.  I will write and call again this month with the same message:  the clusterfuck in Iraq is water under the bridge at this point, but if Democrats can't prevent the next trumped-up war, then to hell with them.

-- TP

by Rethymniotis 2007-09-02 02:42PM | 0 recs
No It's Not Wrong To Have Balls

I have had it up to the gills with this little fear talk about how we as Democrats should be careful and walk on eggshells on every single Foreign Policy decision out there . This is ridiculous. Are we wussies or warriors? We need to make up our minds. One minuet it's fight fight fight. The next it's oh, no be careful. You might help the Republicans. This is why the American people think that Republicans are stronger on matters of Security. We are too darn cautious.

Barack Obama is the only candidate with the wisdom and the judgement to deal with complex issues like this because he's not a warmonger, but he's also not living in La La land where he thinks we have no enemies whatsoever. He is the only one I trust right now to actually handle this issue. I haven't heard anyone else talk about it. Yes, we need to take this type of action against Iran. YES!

I have had it with Democratic Leaders playing it "safe" and "walking softly" so they don't look like they are helping the Republicans. Barack Obama stated that he is not afraid of losing the PR War with Dictators. What makes anyone think he would be afraid to lose a PR War with Republicans? This is a serious issue and Barack Obama is right to take it on. Forget what it "looks" like . The Bush Administration is going to do what they are going to do. Barack Obama is not "helping" them in anyway. We need to buck up and grow a pair or we will never recapture the White House.

by BlueDiamond 2007-09-02 03:04PM | 0 recs
Re: No It's Not Wrong To Have Balls

Sorry but Americans do NOT think Republicans are stronger on security that Democrats. As a simple google will show ya.

I don't have a dog in this fight but I must say that the terms being used could use some examination.

'Wrong' implies a moral judgment something ReThugs just love to get going on. I'd reframe the criticism of Obama's statement as 'stupid' rather than 'wrong'. Why accept Mr. Decider's framing of the whole situation.

Because Mr. Decider has such a good record of being right about the Middle-East or foreign affairs in general?

Probably not.

This commentary by Obama was not smart politics and he also lost the chance to educate the citizens on Bush's lies about Iran and Iraq.

I think what's going on is that Obama and Her Highness HRC have inexperienced and just plain lazy campaign staff. If any of them had every read anything by Lakoff they would easily avoid this sort of mistake. But...

I guess they're too busy conferring with their lobbyist buds about 'Free Trade' an' such.

You never see Edwards make this kind of framing mistake. Indeed, he frames his response to Democratic party member questions so as to provide himself with the framework to push back against any possible ReThug attacks around the issue in question.

This is the big leagues and I just don't think Obama has the skills.

HRC does but she is not going to use them for the good of all the citizenry.

Just her friends.

by Pericles 2007-09-02 04:14PM | 0 recs
Re: No It's Not Wrong To Have Balls

The whole point is that he isn't fighting. He's caving in to the idea that Iran is ooh spooky! dangerous.

With a good foreign policy and some actual diplomacy they wouldn't be. But instead of doing that, he's conceded that Iran is a part of the big bad axle of EVILE. Talking about hitting where it hurts. etc. while we need the cooperation of Iran simple to get our troops home from Iraq without a complete collapse of that region is very bad.

This is about what's good for the country, and regardless how stupid it to bash on Iran while Cheney is looking for the popular support for bombing and/or invading it talking about Iran as if it's a threat to us instead a marginal influence on the world and a moderate regional power who could be a potent ional ally in some certain fields through shared strategic goals in those fields.

This way we continue to solidify a block of countries (Russia/China/Iran) into a coalition that is mainly used to counter our actions in influence in that part of the world. Obama recently showed that he is willing to go against the grain in some aspects of the flawed us foreign policy, in this case he is, unfortunately, backing the conventional and misguided policies.

While we must always look at Iran with suspicion, this policy seems formulated with more in mind what's popular with the electorate then what's  good for the nation.

by Ernst 2007-09-03 12:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

As far as I can tell, Obama wants to "put pressure" on Iran because he has absorbed and reiterates neocon talking points.

From Obama's website, here's his rationale:

The decision to wage a misguided war in Iraq has substantially strengthened Iran, which now poses the greatest strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the Middle East in a generation. Iran supports violent groups and sectarian politics in Iraq, fuels terror and extremism across the Middle East and continues to make progress on its nuclear program in defiance of the international community. Meanwhile, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared that Israel must be "wiped off the map."
All bullshit.

1) "Iran supports violent groups in Iraq" -- yeah, and the NYT reports this morning that the US is funneling money to Sunni tribal forces. Link. The Iranian's good buddies got elected the GOVERNMENT in Iraq in elections we imposed; not surprising they help them. We're just mucking around in the Iranian civil war.

The only suggestion that Iran is arming anyone is coming from the same US military flacks who want us to believe "the surge is working."

2)State department reports consistently said Iran had pretty much got out of the terror business -- until the Cheney Administration started cooking the facts. Familiar?

Israelis think Iranian assistance to Hezbollah is terrorism. Lebanese think Iranian assistance to Hesbollah has helped Shi'a, long excluded as "inferiors" from the Lebanese polity, find a voice. Depends where you are sitting.

3) Mohammed El-Barradei of the United Nations says Iran is cooperating in showing that its nuclear development is peaceful. Remember El-Barradei? He's the guy who insisted Iraq didn't have WMD?

4) Ahmadinejad is a bombastic asshole. And what do we have for a chief executive? No way the Iranian president can accomplish the destruction of Israel  -- and some like Juan Cole have said that's a mistranslation anyway.

Obama is playing the war monger; on this point, he's no better than the neocons.

by janinsanfran 2007-09-02 05:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

the Iranian president has no say over the army or when and how war is waged.  We should focus on the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad is in the news so much is for propaganda reasons, both ours and theirs. But while shouldn't ignore Ahmadinejad, he's second fiddle to Khamenei.

That said Obama is far from a neocon or a warmonger. He is a hawk and has a wrong position on this but he's no Kagan.

by Ernst 2007-09-03 12:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

Jonathan, thanks for the being the voice of sanity on this one. I realize the worry of inadvertently assisting the administration, but I also appreciate Obama's willingness to discuss this issue. We can't just tip toe around it on eggshells and hope it goes away. We need to confront Iran, and we need to confront those calling for war with Iran.

Now, if this supposed after labor day push for war begins, I expect my preferred candidate (Obama) to be extremely vocal in opposition, using the media attention he now has to be a leader on the issue. In fact, I think this bill he has introduced will put him in the IDEAL place to lead such opposition, since he does have an alternative plan to deal with Iran. If the "push" does happen, and Obama does not vocally oppose, he (and any other candidate who does not vocally oppose) will lose my support IMMEDIATELY.

by thenew 2007-09-02 07:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

Hi Jonathan,

It's an issue well worth discussing.  However the article Matt Stoller borrows has at least one major error in it thereby making your lead sentence misleading.  The legislation does not directly require companies to divest.  It requires the publishing of a list of investors every six months and clears some of the impasses that pension funds have had in the past for divesting when they chose to.  

I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that in the past there have been judicial rulings that restricted state pension funds from divesting from certain investments.  And that there are 15-25 states now that have interest in divesting from major energy businesses who are profiting from business in Iran.

The bill passed the House on something like a vote of 408 to 6.

I believe this needs a much more detailed writeup to understand correctly.  I wish I could contribute more research but for now I'll just share this May 16 Reuters article, "New bill would allow Iran energy divestments".  

by Satya 2007-09-02 08:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

In 2002, if a major Democrat had said 'Saddam Hussein poses the greatest strategic threat to American interests in the Middle East in several generations, he is acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and he needs to be disarmed.  We need increased sanctions and more inspections to deal with this threat.'

Would he or she be helpful or not in the war debate?

by Matt Stoller 2007-09-03 05:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Is It Wrong to Apply Pressure on Iran?

What you refuse to consider, Matt, is that Bush is using the exact same game plan he used vis-a-vis Iraq in the buildup to the 2002 resolution.

The international community agreed that Iraq presented problems.  The international community today agrees that Iran presents problems with their 18-year secret nuclear development program.  The existing UN resolution to impose increasing economic sanctions on Iran doesn't exist in a reality that insists that Iran is an innocent bystander.  Those sanctions exist to force Iran to a conciliatory stance on their nuclear program.  

Bush is already making the attempt to tie terrorist activity to Iran, as was done with Iraq.  The addition with Iran is that American soldiers are dying; that was not done with Iraq.

The 2002 resolution is so broad that Bush could conceivably use it to justify military action against Iran.  That's the reason Hillary has publicly said that the resolution does not give Bush the authority to extend military action into Iran and is the reason she wants to withdraw the unreasonably broad 2002 resolution (which was certainly a huge mistake).

For your analysis to work, Matt, you would have to completely erase where we are right now.  There is an international consensus that Iran is being a bad actor, matched by valid concern that Iran needs to stop horsing around in such a dangerous way by our own rational leaders, and further matched by American public opinion which simply does not view Iran as an innocent.

This is the backdrop we are playing against.  Bush is playing the dangerous game, here.  Obama pushed back with increasing sanctions (and there's an obvious Republican delay with this bill) and allowing those sanctions to work.  This is the only  viable alternative since it buys time until January 20, 2009 AND works in the existing reality--and not the one you ignore, Matt.  Until that reality is changed, one of the big push-backs against Bush is exactly what Obama has proposed.  The other is the one Hillary has also proposed.

Of course this is a damned dangerous game.  Bush is the high stakes gambler.  Iran is also involved in a high stakes and dangerous game.  Hillary and Obama are publicly countering Bush's moves.  It's all dangerous.

by cube3u 2007-09-03 06:00PM | 0 recs


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