In the latest in a series of New York Times front-page features on U.S. policy toward Iran based on anonymous sources within the administration, the newspaper proclaimed today the chances of armed conflict with the Islamist state had markedly declined. The unnamed American officials did no more than state the obvious when they noted that the current diplomatic process initiated this month in Istanbul which will recommence in Baghdad after a long break in late May has made it less likely that anyone would attack Iran anytime soon. However, presenting this conclusion as an objective analysis begs the point. The reason why “the temperature has cooled,” as one anonymous Obama administration put it, is not because the West is any closer to actually persuading the Iranians to desist from their nuclear ambitions. Rather, it is the result of policies that have no larger goal than to ensure that there will be no confrontation over the nuclear issue during the president’s campaign.
None of the factors the administration officials put forward as evidence of a cooling of tensions give much hope of securing a non-nuclear Iran. The sanctions, diplomacy and the encouragement of dissent within Israel against the Netanyahu government aren’t likely to convince the Iranians they have no choice but to give up. Though the sanctions are taking their toll on the Iranian economy, that hasn’t stopped Iran’s nuclear program, and its Islamist leadership have every confidence they can outfox Obama and his partners in the P5+1 talks as they have in the past without giving up anything valuable. These factors all have a more immediate goal: rendering any attack on Iran out of the question, and thus enabling the president to face the voters without either a huge spike in oil prices or another Middle East conflict.