from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Are Iran Sanctions a "March to War?"

November 13, 2013

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White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday called any effort to adopt additional sanctions against Iran "a march to war."  Here, from The Cable, is the quote:

It is important to understand that if pursuing a resolution diplomatically is disallowed or ruled out, what options, then, do we and our allies have to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon? The American people do not want a march to war.

This escalation of rhetoric is irresponsible and near hysterical (to borrow a word from a New York Times editorial, which applied it to Israeli prime minister Netanyahu yesterday).

Additional sanctions are, in my view and that of a wide range of Democrats and Republicans, a good idea. Sanctions brought Iran to the table, a conclusion with which the Obama administration appears to agree. Additional sanctions are not therefore obviously a terrible idea, a bad policy, or a sure road to ending negotiations. Iran has in the past stretched out negotiations, as Rouhani himself has claimed, in order to gain time to build its nuclear weapons program. Additional sanctions would make that tactic costly for Iran, and by causing more economic damage give Iran an even greater incentive to show the flexibility needed to reach a deal.

The administration has an argument, one it makes poorly, that additional sanctions imposed now would lead to the doom of all negotiating efforts and cause Iran to walk away from the table. That may be true  but it is illogical and requires some argumentation. What Carney did yesterday is closer to slander than to argumentation: that those who seek additional sanctions--for example, New Jersey Democratic senator Robert Menendez--are leading to war and presumably seek that goal.

I hope the effect of this comment by the White House is to stiffen the spines of those in Congress who are calling for more sanctions. And to lead the White House to change its rhetoric, and henceforth engage in serious debate.