How US presidential politics gives leverage to the Taliban, Iran
While America’s adversaries in Afghanistan and Iran cannot actually pull key strings to choose the next US president, election year politics ends up giving them some leverage.
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As for Iran in particular, I will take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom. I will make clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security and survival is absolute. I will demonstrate our commitment to the world by making Jerusalem the destination of my first foreign trip.Skip to next paragraph
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I will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions. Only when they understand that at the end of that road lies not nuclear weapons but ruin will there be a real chance for a peaceful resolution.
The very next day, on March 6, President Obama extended a tentative olive branch (or perhaps a twig) to Tehran, urging Republicans to avoid “loose talk of war,” and hinting that there was a “window of opportunity” for a peaceful resolution with Tehran over its controversial nuclear program. "It is deeply in everybody's interest – the US, Israel, and the world – to see if [the Iranian nuclear situation] can be resolved in a peaceful fashion," Obama said in his first formal press conference of the year.
It was a definite pullback from the Obama administration’s stern warnings over the past month or two, and a signal that the US might be willing to ease up some of the war pressure and the punishing sanctions imposed by the US and Europe against Iran.
In Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed Obama’s calmer words. And Efraim Halevy, the onetime director of Israel’s security agency, Mossad, in the early 2000s, told the Huffington Post that the Romney's criticism of Obama may actually backfire.
"This means to an Iranian, if you will wait until another few months and there is a change in the White House, then maybe there will be trouble, so the lesson is, Let's redouble our [nuclear] efforts to do it as quickly as we can," Halevy said. "In the effort to demolish the president he is making the situation worse."
"I think people have to be extremely careful with the way they speak," he added. "I don't have any bones about who wins the election, but what Romney has done is a serious problem here. It causes serious issues here."
Similarly, Taliban leaders – who have launched exploratory negotiations to open a political office in Doha, Qatar – have an opportunity to embrace talks with the Obama administration, or to ignore them. Talking with Obama would inevitably give the current US president a foreign policy boost. But since the US has already signaled its intention to withdraw troops by 2014, perhaps the Taliban will be content to stall the start of negotiations, and to wait until after the November elections to figure out which administration it will have to deal with.
* Keep Calm, a winking reference to the World War II slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On," is a new blog that aims to provide a bit of context to help make sense of confusing news events.
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