One of the best results of the WikiLeaks release of thousands of State Department cables is that it moves up in time the moment when it is possible to have a reasonably informed discussion of policy making. Below are two commentaries that I find particularly perceptive and useful that are reactions to the new materials.
Reza Marashi wrote a piece for the Huffington Post entitled WikiLeaks: U.S.-Iran Relations “Now What” Moment?
Marashi is the Research Director of the National Iranian American Council in Washington, and a former desk officer for Iran at the Department of State. He was working the issue during the time when many of these cables were written and sent. He has a particular view about the Obama administration’s Iran policies:
U.S. policy has never been a true engagement policy. By definition, engagement entails a long-term approach that abandons “sticks” and reassures both sides that their respective fears are unfounded. We realized early on that the administration was unlikely to adopt this approach. Instead, we pursued a “carrot and stick” strategy similar to the Bush administration, utilizing positive and negative inducements to convince Iran that changing its behavior would be its most rewarding and least harmful decision…
[A]s the leaked cables show, the highest levels of the Obama administration never believed that diplomacy could succeed. While this does not cheapen Obama’s Nowruz message and other groundbreaking facets of his initial outreach, it does raise three important questions: How can U.S. policymakers give maximum effort to make diplomacy succeed if they admittedly never believed their efforts could work? Why was Iran expected to accept negotiation terms that relinquished its greatest strategic asset (1200 kg of LEU) without receiving a strategic asset of equal value in return? And what are the chances that Iran will take diplomacy seriously now that it knows the U.S. never really did? The Obama administration presented a solid vision, but never truly pursued it.
The full text of his posting is well worth reading.
Another useful commentary is by my friend and colleague Rami G. Khouri, entitled "The Sad Loss of National Dignity." Rami is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. He draws attention to the peculiar fact that:
Arab governments that have spent hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars on buying American and other foreign arms still find themselves totally helpless, vulnerable, and fearful in the face of what they see as growing Iranian power and influence in the region. The assorted Arab leaders who are quoted as asking the United States to hurry up and do something about Iran’s growing nuclear technology capabilities reveal an apparent inability to care for their own countries and citizens. Those who privately called on, or expected, Israel and/or the United States to do their dirty work for them did so because of their own inability to make the decisions and pursue the policies that could have transformed their countries into more viable states, ones that could undertake the tasks of statecraft — whether diplomacy or war — with some credibility.
The real story of the WikiLeaks revelations is not that Arab leaders made some rather foolish and contradictory comments about Iran. Instead these leaders are rather pathetically asking the United States to solve their regional problems when they seem to have not the slightest idea how that should be done. It does not, as Rami says, inspire confidence about the quality of leadership on either side of the Persian Gulf.
However, it may be easier to understand this paradox if you start with the assumption that the oil-rich Arab states have no intention of building a capacity to defend themselves, regardless of the vast sums they spend on their military. Instead, perhaps we should regard these investments as rental payments. The Arabs donate immense quantities of money to the U.S. economy in the form of arms purchases and other things; in turn they expect us to provide them with security. Viewed from that perspective, this may not be quite as dysfunctional as it appears on first glance. But Rami is right, it does not reflect well on national dignity.