March 16, 2012
The past few months have seen an escalating public debate about what the United States should do to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The Obama administration has succeeded in solidifying international opinion against Iran to an extraordinary degree. Iran is now the target of unprecedented economic sanctions that are cutting deeply into its oil exports and that have barred most of its banks from the global financial system. What the Obama administration has not done so far is to devise a diplomatic strategy that makes use of its new economic leverage.
Fearful of looking weak in an election year, Obama seems content to increase the pressure but it is not likely that the Iranian government will succumb. There is also the possibility that the Israeli government will seek to profit from U.S. election year politics by forcing Obama’s hand and starting a pre-emptive attack.
Hard as it may be to bear, the best policy is to maintain the pressure while seeking serious negotiations. The Iranian regime is growing steadily weaker; it has not recovered from 2009 presidential elections which delivered a tainted ‘victory’ to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sooner or later, the internal contradictions within the system will bring about change and produce a regime more capable of compromise. Until then, Iran is eminently containable.
Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center and Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a new website devoted to news from and about the Middle East. The author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, she is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS and C-SPAN.
A career journalist, Slavin previously served as assistant managing editor for world and national security of The Washington Times, senior diplomatic reporter for USA TODAY, Cairo correspondent for The Economist and as an editor at The New York Times Week in Review.
She has covered such key foreign policy issues as the US-led war on terrorism and in Iraq, policy toward "rogue" states, the Iran-Iraq war, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. She has traveled to Iran seven times and was the first U.S. newspaper reporter to interview Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Slavin also served as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she wrote Bitter Friends, and as a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where she researched and wrote the report Mullahs, Money and Militias: How Iran Exerts Its Influence in the Middle East.