As the Obama administration seeks to pressure Iran without undertaking any measures which might disrupt the international oil market, antagonize European commercial interests, or disrupt diplomacy, the latest idea is to work through Beijing to pressure Tehran. Ilan Berman outlined this option well in a recent New York Times opinion piece.
The problem is that the idea of leveraging China against Iran is not new, not fresh, and has been tried before without success. During the latter half of the George W. Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her aides actively sought to work through China, which has economic leverage in Iran, to affect Iranian behavior. It did not work. Dennis Ross, President Obama’s point man on the issue, embraced the same idea as his own and has tried to implement it over the past three years, again without success. Certainly, we can keep trying to encourage China to use its leverage against Iran, but we’re grasping at straws if we make a tired, ineffective strategy our next great hope.
The Obama administration lacks credibility on Iran among the audience that matters most: the Iranian government. Hossein Salami, chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps joint staff, yesterday declared that “unprecedented and rare events in the United States are a sign of the global arrogance being on the verge of collapse.”
The problem is that there is no magic diplomatic formula that has yet to be tried. Any comprehensive and coherent strategy will include a diplomatic component, an informational strategy, true biting sanctions, and preparations for a military eventuality that hopefully will never be needed should the Iranian leadership recognize that the costs of pursuing their nuclear ambitions are too high.
The idea that the White House faces a choice between a robust strategy and steady oil prices is nonsense, because it assumes that Iran stays placid and pre-nuclear. The fact of the matter is that if Iran is able to continue its nuclear drive or attain a nuclear weapons capability, the impact on the oil markets could be as great–but longer lasting.