Foreign Policy Chat: Posturing On Iran And A Third Term For Putin


The escalating rhetoric on Iran is converging this week with a high-profile visit from Israeli PM Netanyahu and AIPAC's annual conference. Israeli hard liners and their American supporters have been pressuring the President for weeks to toughen up his position on Iran, emphasize military options, and to articulate concrete "red lines" - Iranian actions that would spur a military response from the US. The President took the stage at AIPAC to reassure the audience that he stands with Israel and is working diligently to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The President's two-track strategy--which led with the option of diplomatic rapprochement and then pivoted to tough sanctions--has been credited by many analysts as causing significant economic turmoil in Iran and isolating them internationally in unprecedented ways. The fact remains that while no one can guarantee that the Administration's strategy will prevent Iran from developing nuclear capability, the hawks calling for air strikes certainly have not made any kind of compelling case for what that end game looks like and how we would deal with the massive regional instability that would result.

Daniel Levy penned an interesting piece analyzing some of the behind-the-scenes politics and strategy on the Israeli side and concludes that Bibi probably won't attack Iran. It's a great read for some background on the closed-door debates likely to be happening in Washington this week. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has seized the opportunity to try and criticize Obama's Iran policy and cast him as weak on the Middle East. His argument, however, seems unlikely to resonate when his characterization of what a Romney foreign policy would look like is virtually identical to the one advanced by President Obama. Romney's suggestion that he "will have those military options...and will take those crippling sanctions and put them into place," could be verbatim from any White House press release. In trying to contexualize all of the noise on Iran, I highly recommend this radio clip from last week's On The Media, in which New York Times reporter Scott Shane explains the way that media coverage of Iran is impacting public opinion. Interesting stuff. 


Putin Claims Third Term

Sunday night saw Vladimir Putin shed tears as he claimed a third term as Russian President amid a backdrop of protests and allegations of electoral fraud. This result is anything but shocking, with international election observers promptly issuing a report revealing that the entire election left much to be desired: “Although all contestants were able to campaign unhindered, the conditions for the campaign were clearly skewed in favor of one candidate. Also, overly restrictive candidate registration requirements limited genuine competition. While all candidates had access to media, one candidate, the current Prime Minister, was given clear advantage in the coverage… The process deteriorated during the count which was assessed negatively in nearly one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities.” After the results were announced, police arrested more than 500 protestors and Putin reportedly paid $10 a head in order to fill the seats at a dramatic victory party.

The details of Russia’s rocky experience with democratic governance is less important in the short term, however, than how Putin chooses to play his cards on other regional and strategic issues. The Secretary-General of NATO issued a statement expressing his confidence that the organization will continue to collaborate on issues of importance—such as missile infrastructure and Afghanistan. The continuity of government in Moscow will also have important implications for the ongoing international response to the crisis in Syria. Russia recently vetoed a Security Council resolution on the subject, seeking to protect their long-time ally and warm-water naval base. US and European officials will have to wait and see whether the security of a six year Presidential term will make Putin more or less inclined to come to the table and engage with the West.