Friday, June 6, 2008

Sitting Down with Iran, Obama-style

A reader writes:
Eric, I enjoy your thoughts and postings, but I must disagree with your position with sitting down with Iran. I truly doubt we know their expenditures on military matters since they are spread out and quite clandestine especially with their support of Hamas and Hezbollah. While a frank discussion may be possible, it is only worthwhile if there is a possiblilty that the other side will be trustworthy. We have observed with North Korea and Iran much duplicity in the past, and let us not forget the inability to trust the PLO who refused to make any serious attempt to rein in terrorist groups who operated openly in territory that they were in charge of. Dialogue is a two way street.
According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran's military budget in 2005 was estimated at $6.5 billion. Assuming a 5% increase per year, that would be $7.5 billion in 2008. I will admit that this figure likely doesn't include funding it gives to Hamas and Hezbollah, but according to one expert, it's likely more than $100 million. As for Hamas, their allotment for the second half of 2008 could be $150 million. But let's be generous and assume that it gives these organizations about $1 billion per year. And just for kicks, let's factor in another $100 million or so to fund covert aid to Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq. That's a total of $8.6 billion. This represents 1.37% of the $626.1 billion in US military expenditures in 2007. Hope we're clear on that now. (It's amazing what one can find online, ain't it?)

As for Iran's being trustworthy, I'm not sure what that has to do with diplomacy. I wasn't in Yalta in 1945, but I'm pretty sure that neither Roosevelt nor Churchill had any trust for Stalin. Other than the dismemberment of Germany, each had his own agenda: Roosevelt wanted Stalin to help with the US Pacific War, Churchill pressed for free elections and democracy in Eastern Europe, and Stalin wanted to create and ensure a USSR sphere of political influence in Eastern Europe for their own national security. Trust wasn't a prerequisite for that meeting, and there's no need for us to be able to trust Iran, or North Korea, or any other rogue state that we know we can't trust anyway.

Having Obama meet with Ahmedinejad accomplishes one major U.S. pressing strategic interest: to show the rest of the world that there is a new leader of the free world who is actually going to be a serious participant in promoting peace, not a hegemon asserting domination through military means over all others. That being said, however, Obama wouldn't be stupid enough to pull military options off the table in talking to Iran, and Iran knows that. Obama will let Ahmedinejad prance about, as though his sitting at the table with the Americans means he's now a serious player, because everyone else knows how ridiculous that idea truly is. When the doors close and the reporters wait outside, Obama will calmly lay out for Ahmedinejad ways for him to accomplish his goals without a fight with the U.S. The Supreme Leaders in Iran are not Sunni death-cultists like al Qaeda; they aren't yearning for martyrdom (however, they are fine with giving money to those who do). Ultimately, I believe they want to be big players on the stage in the Middle East and they want to be on an equal footing with Israel, whom they perceive to be a threat (and rightly so).

Still their nuclear ambitions are clearly unacceptable, and I believe they can be persuaded to abandon them if they see that the US will deal with them at a high level. Under Obama's leadership, the world will make the conditions possible for this to happen.

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