They also offer new insights into how President Obama, determined to merge his promise of “engagement” with his vow to raise the pressure on the Iranians, assembled a coalition that agreed to impose an array of sanctions considerably harsher than any before attempted.
When Mr. Obama took office, many allies feared that his offers of engagement would make him appear weak to the Iranians. But the cables show how Mr. Obama’s aides quickly countered those worries by rolling out a plan to encircle Iran with economic sanctions and antimissile defenses. In essence, the administration expected its outreach to fail, but believed that it had to make a bona fide attempt in order to build support for tougher measures. (quoting from NYT)
That last point is key, as some have tried to argue that Obama only turned to the pressure track after the engagement track failed. The truth about Obama’s Iran policy, and this is something Obama was quite clear about even during the presidential campaign, is that not only do engagement and pressure work together, engagement itself can be a form of pressure, as it has been with Iran. (quoting from Matt Duss).
Gary Sick, an old Iran hand, has some good insights on the "revelations" as well:
- "It may be significant that Israeli alarm — and endless deadlines — have been a permanent feature of its rhetoric since at least 1992. At that time, Netanyahu warned in the Knesset that unless someone (i.e. the United States) intervened, Iran would have a nuclear weapon in 3 to 5 years. The current intelligence reading 18 years later is that Iran could build a nuclear weapon within 3 to 5 years." Israel, like a broken watch, will eventually be right.
- "So their charge to their American colleagues seemed to be: In private I will hold your coat, while you take action that I will deplore and denounce publicly, and when it produces a catastrophe I will say that I told you so." With friends like these ....
- Sick disagrees with the above take on engagement plus pressure, asserting that engagement was never implemented.
- "...how the US got Saudi Arabia to promise China a guaranteed source of energy if it would join in pressuring Iran, and how the US change in its missile defense strategy (from a system based in Eastern Europe to a sea-based system) apparently helped to get Russia to do the same." Wow! Diplomacy can work?! With a weaker US (thanks to GWBush), diplomacy requires more creativity to gain leverage and build cooperation.
- Best news: "This may be the most important fact about the WikiLeaks documents so far. If Washington can keep its head while everyone around it is losing theirs, perhaps we need not yet yield to despair."
Follow http://twitter.com/abuaardvark (Marc Lynch) for good links to Middle East-related stuff, including the coverage of the wikileaks.