Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jeffrey White

You Don’t Have to Be a Harvard Think Tank

In a significant paper at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeffrey White and Loring White discuss the results of war games on the Iranian nuclear program conducted by three think tanks — at Harvard, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institute — all of which ended in defeats for the U.S. and Israel. The common results were:

  • The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
  • Sanctions did not seem to work.
  • The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
  • Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.

The paper concludes that the U.S. needs to “play” much differently in the coming months if it wants to avoid those results, and time “is running out.”

The signals sent by the State Department since the expiration of Obama’s “deadline” have only reinforced the sense that the administration has no Plan B. On January 12, the department spokesman emphasized that recourse to the “pressure track” would be “a very long process,” starting with discussions of “ideas that any of the [P-5+1] partners have on how we can get Iran to live up its international obligations.” The “discussions” have largely been phone calls, since the administration cannot get the Chinese to send their political director to a meeting.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley announced that Under Secretary William Burns had a 90-minute conference call with his P-5+1 “counterparts” that discussed “both the pressure track and the negotiation track; discussed next steps in the process, both in terms of negotiation, took stock of the recent comments by Iran, but also continue to evaluate potential actions on the pressure track as well.” His statement produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: When you said counterparts, did that include the Chinese political director, or was it, in fact, the sous chef at the Embassy? (Laughter) …

QUESTION: Did they — I’m sorry if I missed it, but did they actually agree on any additional sanctions or language regarding –

MR. CROWLEY: That wasn’t the intent of the call. … It’s hard to characterize it other than they had a detailed discussion of where we are in the process and shared ideas on both tracks.

Discussions were supposed to have occurred long before this. On April 22, 2009, Hillary Clinton assured the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was laying the groundwork for crippling sanctions if engagement failed:

BERMAN: … I can’t get away from the fact that Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability keep going ahead, and — and that this engagement can’t be so-open-ended that we essentially pass the threshold that we’re seeking to avoid by virtue of the engagement. … Are we pursuing the — the default position, the — the leverage that I think will make the engagement more likely as we deal with key members of the international community and the Security Council?

CLINTON: … As the president said in his inaugural address, we’ll hold out our hand. They have to unclench their fist. But we are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough — I think you said crippling — sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.

Nine months past Clinton’s assurance, two months past the “deadline,” it is apparent that no groundwork has been laid. The discussions are just beginning; it will be a “very long process”; the administration is unenthusiastic about pending legislation authorizing “crippling” sanctions.

You don’t have to be part of a Harvard think tank to see where this is headed.

In a significant paper at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeffrey White and Loring White discuss the results of war games on the Iranian nuclear program conducted by three think tanks — at Harvard, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institute — all of which ended in defeats for the U.S. and Israel. The common results were:

  • The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
  • Sanctions did not seem to work.
  • The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
  • Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.

The paper concludes that the U.S. needs to “play” much differently in the coming months if it wants to avoid those results, and time “is running out.”

The signals sent by the State Department since the expiration of Obama’s “deadline” have only reinforced the sense that the administration has no Plan B. On January 12, the department spokesman emphasized that recourse to the “pressure track” would be “a very long process,” starting with discussions of “ideas that any of the [P-5+1] partners have on how we can get Iran to live up its international obligations.” The “discussions” have largely been phone calls, since the administration cannot get the Chinese to send their political director to a meeting.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley announced that Under Secretary William Burns had a 90-minute conference call with his P-5+1 “counterparts” that discussed “both the pressure track and the negotiation track; discussed next steps in the process, both in terms of negotiation, took stock of the recent comments by Iran, but also continue to evaluate potential actions on the pressure track as well.” His statement produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: When you said counterparts, did that include the Chinese political director, or was it, in fact, the sous chef at the Embassy? (Laughter) …

QUESTION: Did they — I’m sorry if I missed it, but did they actually agree on any additional sanctions or language regarding –

MR. CROWLEY: That wasn’t the intent of the call. … It’s hard to characterize it other than they had a detailed discussion of where we are in the process and shared ideas on both tracks.

Discussions were supposed to have occurred long before this. On April 22, 2009, Hillary Clinton assured the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was laying the groundwork for crippling sanctions if engagement failed:

BERMAN: … I can’t get away from the fact that Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability keep going ahead, and — and that this engagement can’t be so-open-ended that we essentially pass the threshold that we’re seeking to avoid by virtue of the engagement. … Are we pursuing the — the default position, the — the leverage that I think will make the engagement more likely as we deal with key members of the international community and the Security Council?

CLINTON: … As the president said in his inaugural address, we’ll hold out our hand. They have to unclench their fist. But we are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough — I think you said crippling — sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.

Nine months past Clinton’s assurance, two months past the “deadline,” it is apparent that no groundwork has been laid. The discussions are just beginning; it will be a “very long process”; the administration is unenthusiastic about pending legislation authorizing “crippling” sanctions.

You don’t have to be part of a Harvard think tank to see where this is headed.

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