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With Iran, Obama Needs More Carrot, Less Stick

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Posted on Nov 13, 2008
AP photo / Hasan Sarbakhshian

A woman in the streets of Tehran holds up the Iranian daily Rozan with a photo of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama the day after the American election.

By Scott Ritter

The American people have spoken, and the next president of the United States will be Barack Obama. Running on a platform of change, the president-elect will be severely tested early in his administration by a host of challenges, be they economic, military, environmental or diplomatic in nature. How Obama handles these issues will define his tenure as America’s chief executive, and there will not—nor should there be—a honeymoon period. The challenges of these times do not permit such a luxury, something the president-elect had to know and comprehend when he chose to run for office. John McCain and Hillary Clinton, Obama’s defeated rivals, were both correct when they noted that the next president would need to be ready to govern on day one. Barack Obama has until the 20th of January to get his policies in order, because at one minute past noon on that day, he becomes the most powerful man in a volatile world. While the problems he will face are many, I will focus on what I believe are the four most critical issues that will need to be addressed in the first weeks and months of the Obama administration: Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Russia. This will be done in a series of articles, the first of which will deal with Iran.


Barack Obama, the candidate, said many things about Iran, some of which were inherently contradictory. In this he is not unique, since the reality of the rough-and-tumble world of American presidential politics requires any given candidate to show extreme flexibility in defining solutions to complex problems, oftentimes based not on the facts as they exist, but rather the fiction of domestic political imperative. Sometimes initial positions are staked out based upon fact-based analysis, only to be corrected as a given domestic constituency expresses unease and imposes its own fantasy-based worldview on the candidate. Nowhere is this process of the fictionalization of fact more prevalent than on the issue of Iran and its nuclear program. One year ago, in an interview with The New York Times, Obama demonstrated a level-headed approach toward Iran, expressing “serious concern” over the country’s nuclear program and its support for what he termed “terrorist organizations.” He grounded his comments in an appreciation for the cause-and-effect relationship between Iran’s involvement in Iraq and the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of that country. Obama also expressed the need for “aggressive diplomacy” with Iran at the highest levels and emphasized the importance of economic incentives and security assurances when it came to compelling Iran to change course on its nuclear program.


But many months on the campaign trail, fighting a determined Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, and a critical Republican Party, compelled the thoughtful Harvard-educated foreign policy neophyte to buckle under the pressure of needing to be seen as “strong” and “determined” in the face of continued Iranian intransigence. In July of 2008, following a series of Iranian ballistic missile tests, which included the Shahib-3 long-range missile, Obama seemed to retreat from diplomacy, noting aggressively that “Iran is a great threat.” Instead of trying to balance the Iranian decision to test its missiles with ongoing militaristic rhetoric from both the United States and Israel (including a large-scale Israeli air force exercise that simulated a strike on Iran), Obama undertook a single-dimension approach toward the problem and predictably came up with an equally simplistic solution:  “We have to make sure we are working with our allies to apply tightened pressure on Iran,” including tighter economic sanctions. Obama noted that there was a “need for us to create a kind of policy that is putting the burden on Iran to change behavior, and frankly we just have not been able to do that over the last several years.” Gone was any notion of understanding the cause-and-effect relationships that may have influenced Iran’s actions, or the notion that wrongheaded American policy (such as continued economic sanctions) may in fact have contributed to Iran’s behavior.


If one was hoping that Obama’s sweeping electoral victory in the 2008 presidential election might have liberated him from the need to assume a “tough guy” pose, the recent press conference given by the president-elect set the record straight. “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon,” Obama stated, “ … is unacceptable. And we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening.” Perhaps Obama received some new insight into Iran from his recent access to top-secret CIA intelligence briefings that prompted him to unilaterally declare as fact the existence of an Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons. There is, of course, no substantive data to sustain such an assertion. As a critic of the U.S. intelligence failure concerning Iraq’s WMD programs in the lead-up to the invasion and occupation of that country, as well as the Bush administration’s politicization of intelligence for ideological motives, Obama would do well to take any intelligence briefing on Iran, void of incontrovertible evidence, with much-warranted skepticism.

 
The president-elect went on to state, “Iran’s support of terrorist organizations I think is something that has to cease.” It would be nice to know more about how he defines “terrorist organizations.” Is he speaking about Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine or Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq? The last time I looked, Hezbollah was democratically elected to Lebanon’s parliament, representing a significant percentage of the Shiite population of southern Lebanon. And Hamas became a significant player in Palestine’s budding democracy by appealing to the legitimate needs and desires of a growing number of Palestinians unimpressed by the corruption and undemocratic principles of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.

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By Folktruther, November 18, 2008 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

Obama is inheriting a power system deeply committed to Amercian-Zionist militarism.  It is headed toward depression mostly because the banks largely control the economic policies of the government.  This prevents economic policies that will cure unemployment, the actual figure, as opposed to the fake mainstream figure, currently being about 15%.

War has always served as a distraction and diversion of the population which power structures have always used historically to mobilize the people in its support.  Since the Amerian government does not have the power to take effective economic action, increased war is likely.

Obama has already stated publically that he isn’t going to go the Roosevelt reform route.  In any case this route did not cure the depression, despite the mainstream impression that it did.  According the the economist albert Rees, unemployment was never below 14% from 1931-39, and was 17& in 1939% before war expenditures began.

Obama is already committed to increasing the military and expanding the Afghan war to Pakistan, a nuclear armed country on the Chinese border of 180 million people.  A smart war?  For who, American bankers or the American and Pakistani people.

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By bogi666, November 18, 2008 at 8:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As usual Scott provides a thoughtful analysis and solution for the Iranian situation. I fear that Obama’s Chief O Staff Rahm Emannuel will sabotage any effort to reach a solution with Iran. His, Rahm’s, agenda is Israel 1st. He has duel citizenship.

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Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, November 17, 2008 at 12:46 am Link to this comment

Article quote:

“In July of 2008, following a series of Iranian ballistic missile tests, which included the Shahib-3 long-range missile, Obama seemed to retreat from diplomacy, noting aggressively that “Iran is a great threat.” Instead of trying to balance the Iranian decision to test its missiles with ongoing militaristic rhetoric from both the United States and Israel (including a large-scale Israeli air force exercise that simulated a strike on Iran), Obama undertook a single-dimension approach toward the problem and predictably came up with an equally simplistic solution:  “We have to make sure we are working with our allies to apply tightened pressure on Iran,” including tighter economic sanctions. Obama noted that there was a “need for us to create a kind of policy that is putting the burden on Iran to change behavior, and frankly we just have not been able to do that over the last several years.” Gone was any notion of understanding the cause-and-effect relationships that may have influenced Iran’s actions, or the notion that wrongheaded American policy (such as continued economic sanctions) may in fact have contributed to Iran’s behavior.”

Thank you, Mr. Ritter. I agree.

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By boredwell, November 15, 2008 at 11:19 am Link to this comment

Look what we have done to Cuba. We’re still punishing the people for Castro, the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis. Iran, among other nations, is at the receiving end of bully stick. And it’s a big one!

As America speaks from its democratic pulpit, it has discovered that its congregation of believers has diminished because of our imperious rhetoric. When will we grow up, admit we made mistakes and get on with the business of introducing more enlightening constructs? By this I mean, acting like mature realpoliticians. Forget our flag-waving belief in superiority: our principles have been anything but pure. The world knows it. The more we fight against that consensus the more marginalized we become in our self-aggrandizement. Obama will need to take advantage of the interstices, those gaps in the continuum of our intractable policies towards these two nations. From these he must extract compromises both mutual and reciprocal, requisite to the establishment of more sane, equitable foreign relations. Smoke and mirrors, carrots and sticks, our rabbit’s haste-makes-waste POV would benefit from moderating its pace yet to proceed cautiously, steadily onward. This whole concept of “race,” as in arms, technology, nuclear and, color, needs to be amended rather than stratified. If change is truly on the horizon, as has been promised, then the challenge is to establish, effect and priortize what the changes will be, where they will take us and how they will help to implement, and hopefully fulfill, a more courageous but coherent direction toward understanding rather than manipulation and control.

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By Allan Krueger, November 15, 2008 at 8:47 am Link to this comment

Obama needs Ritter on his team. He was a weapons inspector in Iraq and told the truth about what was going on there. What more do we need to know?

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By PatrickHenry, November 15, 2008 at 8:29 am Link to this comment

We should leave Iran alone. 

With America’s off shore, extrajudicial system, we are hardly in the position to justify our actions to the world.

Time to bring the fleets home, close most of our overseas bases and stop selling weapons abroad in general.

We also need to outlaw these quasimercenary groups like Blackwater.

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By LostHills, November 14, 2008 at 9:10 pm Link to this comment

I wouldn’t give them a carrot or a stick, either one. I wouldn’t give them anything. Isolate, sanction and contain them until they choose a less beligerant, repressive and militaristic government that is worth engaging with.

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By Paolo, November 14, 2008 at 6:56 pm Link to this comment

As a libertarian, I just hope to God Obama does not decide to use his new-found power to launch more Bush-type wars of “pre-emption.”

Given the size of his crushing electoral victory, Obama could easily fall into the trap of thinking whatever he does, so long as it is aggressive, will be cheered.

I hope his first-in-his-class Harvard education has taught him reflection and humility. If so, we may have a chance of getting out of foreign wars, and out of this insane fiscal nightmare that is the result of foreign wars (and other stuff too lengthy to mention).

If Obama is truly a giant, he will have the courage to disengage from intervention all over the globe. But early indications are not good.

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By Fadel Abdallah, November 14, 2008 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment

Well done Scott Ritter! Indeed you are more thoughtful and reasonable than Brack Obama or the same old worn cliches of politics as usual a la imperialist mentality of the past! On foreign policy, I predict that Obama, trying to look tough and matching the crude chauvinism of his predecessor, he might even surpass him in this regard!

The only thing that might bring him to his senses is the the fact that America is broke and cannot afford financially to start new ruinous imperialist adventures!

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By yellowbird2525, November 14, 2008 at 3:56 am Link to this comment

perception management: military term; means to present via radio, TV, & newspapers (and on to the internet) lies that will “appear” as being truth. THIS is the reason no “peeps” from the media; most of them are owned, operated by the Corps & wealthy who run this country & get rich off of the sweat of the people; if you are told lies long enough you will believe them. Our country is NOT a democracy; a democracy means run by “the will of the people”; it is NOT. As Peter Buckley, St rep in Oregon Congress voiced: the Gov is a tool for business to tell it what to do. Most laws are for “looks”; they are put there for looks only; to “please” the people and make them THINK that they are being enforced. They are not. (environmental laws, etc); This nation “appears” to have 2 seperately & sharply divided “parties”; in reality, they only APPEAR to be this way, in fact per Ron Paul & many others: there is no difference really; so the DECEPTION is continued by the continued media;******remember reading where Georgia attacked Odessa & the little 12 year old girl thanking the Russian soldiers for saving her & her village was almost cut off by Fox news? Yet REPEATEDLY Obama, McCain & all the news media including Bush, Clinton etc: ALL stated that “Russia” had attacked Georgia for no reason; blah blah blah. THIS is what perception management is all about. The TRUTH is that there are aprox 70 different “contractors” like Black Water (that are known of); 2 of them (units) went into Georgia & trained them on how to attack 2 weeks before Georgia attacked Odessa. THIS was to “present” to the USA people the LIE of “Russia” being an aggressor; is this clear? If interested, I recommend heartily going to the site: http://www.treehugger.com; and search for “recycling is ; it will pull up articles & the recent one “recycling is BS” will explain far better than I can how the Corps running the Gov planned & showed the PEOPLE as the cause for all the pollution: instead of the Gov refusing to heed the people; letting the Corps do what they wanted to do: and then the whole blame was put onto the PEOPLE as being the cause of the problem; & they way the people had to pick up the tab as they (Gov & Corps laughed all the way to the bank); Corps aren’t paying taxes folks: the people pay far higher taxes & now we are paying Corps taxes. How do YOU feel about being enslaved to Corps? When someone makes $3 BILLION a year (that does NOT include their salary) and doesn’t have to pay taxes on it? How does he make that much? By YOUR money. Read the book: license to steal; it’s all about Wall ST. & how the Gov “agencies” are for LOOKS only: to MAKE it APPEAR to the PEOPLE as having an agency in place to “govern” it. Perception folks: is really deception. Very concerned over the PEOPLES PERCEPTION: has to be managed. It’s called brainwashing folks: Personal & Corp GREED is put above social need; & justice has fled the land years ago.

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By dihey, November 14, 2008 at 3:50 am Link to this comment

Madeleine Albright has written an article in which she gives President-elect Obama gratuitous advice on Foreign Policy, including Iran. The words Israel and Palestine do not appear even once in the piece! One can only hope that President Obama will ignore this political dinosaur from the Cretaceous of US Foreign Affairs. Regrettably I am not certain that he will. Meanwhile the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank will apparently continue unabated in an Obama administration.

Scott Ritter ought to be hired in a high position at the State Department, the President’s “security advisory team”, or else the CIA. It will not happen because he is too honest. History teaches that only liars, incompetents, fantasists, or dissemblers qualify at these locations.

Meanwhile the fantasy that President Obama plans to withdraw all troops from Iraq continues to make the round. All he has promised is to withdraw roughly 60,00 combat soldiers. The so-called “success” of the “Surge” makes that wishful thinking. The open and strong US support for the Iraqi Sunnis has driven Al Sadr and Al Sistani into one league with Iran, a fundamental fact that is rarely acknowledged by our media. The two Al’s want us out before the Sunnis get too strong again. There will be no “status of forces” agreement on December 31, thanks to Petraeus’s “Surge”.

From the German Press: “President Bush is the Mother of all Lame Ducks”. Bullseye!

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By Folktruther, November 14, 2008 at 2:13 am Link to this comment

The US-Israel will continue to be a military threat to Iran until they develop nuclear weapons as a deterent.  But as the French premier Sarkozy has stated, this in itself would not be so bad, but it would increase the race for nuclear weapons around the world.

So the allies of Iran, Russia and China, are against it. So as of now Iran is not doing it, increasing the bellegerancy of US-Israel.  There was a rumor that aides of Obama and McCain were secretly working out plans for increased pressure, including an attack, on Iran.  The pressures on the president in office are similar to those running for office.

So the tune that anyone is humming sitting in the Oval Office is Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran.  And Obama has a chorus of advisers singing along.

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By libertarian, November 14, 2008 at 1:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wonderful article I’d like to comment on later. Just a note here on the Shahib-3 missile mentioned in the article.

this from globalsecurity.org:
“Iran has already demonstrated a three stage operation with the solid propellant Ghadr-110/Ashura program 2,000 km range designed is now being produced for deployment which has finally been publicly acknowledged after completing development to replace the liquid propellant Shahab-3B, 3C/Ghadr-1 already deployed.”

It seems that on full deployment of the Ghadr110, Iran will no longer be subject to the unending threats of major powers. This sense of security, I believe, will allow Iran to negotiate with the US in a useful fashion. It’s also worth noting that there would be no need for Iran to develop nuclear weapons (devices which would contaminate the entire region if used by Israel or anyone else) if they possess hundreds of accurate mobile missiles functioning as a potent deterrent.

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By VirginiaFromVirginia, November 13, 2008 at 10:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

dick wrote: “Obama is a member of The War Party, controlled by the power elite, who have paid for Obama’s election. For a hint of what is in store in the middle east, Emanuel , the ardent Zionist, is the chief advisor to Obama, who has already been instructed and “warned” by Israel not talk with Iran.”

And isn’t it incredible that the Main Stream Media doesn’t utter a “peep” about the selection of Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff!  Emanuel’s father fought with the TERRORIST organization Irgun which killed both Palestinians and Brits. Wikipedia is trying to remove its information about Rahm Emanuel’s father.  No “peep” about that, either.

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By MichaelF, November 13, 2008 at 8:44 pm Link to this comment

“The last time I looked, Hezbollah was democratically elected to Lebanon’s parliament, representing a significant percentage of the Shiite population of southern Lebanon. And Hamas became a significant player in Palestine’s budding democracy. . . .”

Don’t forget that Hitler was also elected!  I have been following Hezbollah and Hamas for some time, and the last time I looked both were calling for a war of genocide against Jews and Israel.  Such is proof the apple falls not far from the tree.

As far as Hamas being a significant player in a budding democracy, well by a democracy you mean a government that assasinates its opponents, you have a point there.

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By MichaelF, November 13, 2008 at 8:40 pm Link to this comment

“The last time I looked, Hezbollah was democratically elected to Lebanon’s parliament, representing a significant percentage of the Shiite population of southern Lebanon. And Hamas became a significant player in Palestine’s budding democracy. . . .”

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By mamali, November 13, 2008 at 4:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama, Bush, Clinton, it does not mater the foreign policy of the US of A is made in Israel by the Zionist.
Wake up America; they are destroying your country: Wall Street Meltdown, 9/11, War in Iraq and Afghanistan, media control, etc…..

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By WriterOnTheStorm, November 13, 2008 at 3:54 pm Link to this comment

As much as one can appreciate Mr Ritter’s expertise on this subject, it is all wishful thinking. There is little political will for normalizing relations with Iran, especially if it comes at the cost of diminishing, even to a smallest degree, Israeli military hegemony in the region. This policy prerequisite, may extend as far as obstructing Iran’s economic development, which Ritter describes as a necessary part of the peace equation.

None of this even mentions the elephant in the room: the Palestinian question. So when it comes to solving the Iran problem - that’s change I’ll believe in when I see it.

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By abdo, November 13, 2008 at 3:19 pm Link to this comment

Dear brack
who has the the largest arsenal of weapon, nuclear and conventional, In the middle east(ME)?
Israel and USA
Who have most means, at land, air and sea, to deliver massive attacks to any country in ME?
Israel and USA
who started wars and aggregations in the ME in the last decade?
The same
Israel and the united states carries the burden of finding new sensible peaceful policy in the middle east.

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By Rogelio, November 13, 2008 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

How much of a threat is Iran? Looking back, the Persians (not Iranians) haave not been a major threat to “global peace” since the times of Darius. Hopefully, the new Obama adminstation realizes that peaceful negotiations/dialogue needs to take place. If the Cold War between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. can happen, then it should definitely happen with Iran.

If we are going to label Iran as a promoter of world terror, then we should equally condemn our Saudi “allies” were fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were from. The “state” sponsored terrorism that has occurred is surely no worse than the horrible atrocities that OUR nation has committed in Iraq; a war that emerged on falsified/deciet/lies/manipulation.

President Obama needs to bring back respectability and honesty to our foreign policy. Hopefully, Obama does not become a puppet of the warmongers.

Is Iran a threat? Our economy is more of a threat than a nation that has not led a major conflict comparable to that of the Euopeans and the U.S. (WW I-II, Vietnam, etc…). Any terrorist attack is deplorable. Yet, I will argue that the U.S. led war in Iraq on false pretenses has been far worse. Surely, the innocent Iraqi life toll has reached nearly 1,000,000.

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By dick, November 13, 2008 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama is a member of The War Party, controlled by the power elite, who have paid for Obama’s election. For a hint of what is in store in the middle east, Emanuel , the ardent Zionist, is the chief advisor to Obama, who has already been instructed and “warned” by Israel not talk with Iran.

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By Purple Girl, November 13, 2008 at 9:38 am Link to this comment

Please the Iranian Pres is as arrogant and Self deluded as W. He doesn’t run the country, he’s just a puppet Too. His popularity is about as good as W’s too.
I did wish Sen Obama would have acknowledged that the Iranian Pres letter of congradulation was rather historic and a sign of potential common ground. Instead he returned immediately to the BS about Nukes and terrorist…..A Missed opprtunity to present a Laural leaf to the iranian People (not their Gov’t).
I’m not afraid of that two bit country, as Israel shouldn’t be either (they have about 200 War heads- so they are NOT the underdogs).
In fact knowing how we were conned by the Oil, Miltiary and Financial Corps, We should really disgard this combative, sword rattling rhetoric- They are War profiteers stirring Up shit to make profits.
Come On folks, these Corps have propped up AQ and Bin laden to screw th eRussians in th e’80’s and just recently pulled some criminal shit to get something started between russia and Georgia. What make the BS crap they keep telling US about Iran any more legitimate…Nothing Just more Marketing deception
the Iranians are not the Problem it’s the Military Industrial Complex which has been shit disturbing and blood letting for Decades.Let’s air bomb their camps, their ‘royals’ Palaces. I am SICK of hearing about WHO I should fear from those who have CAUSED all the Terrorist Threats we now Face ( Wars, Economic meltdown, environmental destruction).
Want to end the foreign Terrorist attacks…Execute all Domestic Corp terrorist and Politicians.

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