Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dealing with Iran in Latin America

Media and politician attention on the Latin America-Iran connection is not new, but seems to be getting more frantic. There are lots of vague pronouncements about how the U.S. needs to do more. More! Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is up in arms, and wants the U.S. to do more. Even Barack Obama seems to be telling himself to do more. We can resolve everything if we just do...MORE.

The end of this Reuters piece leaves us hanging, but points to the essential question that I have yet to see addressed, namely what policy change toward Latin America would "more" entail?

Obama and Clinton have yet to spell out the consequences of flirting with Iran against Washington’s wishes.

In all of these analyses, there is the unquestioned assumption that the U.S. can and should punish Latin American governments for doing things it doesn't like. Even setting aside the clear sovereignty implications, there is also the assumption that the U.S. can obtain by force or pressure the political outcome it wants. In this case, it is a decrease of Iranian influence and punishment of Hugo Chávez for acting in ways the U.S. government does not like.

But what policy will achieve these outcomes? In short, what is the "more"? Sanctions will undoubtedly a) push the affected countries more firmly into the arms of U.S. adversaries; and b) generate considerable sympathy in Latin America for them. Given the history of U.S.-Latin American relations, U.S. intervention is viewed with suspicion, even by allies, and especially when aimed at democratically elected governments. That will mean a marked decrease in U.S. image and influence precisely at a time that everyone claims we need to be increasing them. What about use of force, either overt or covert? A and B still apply, only in much greater measure. CELAC is now a shell organization, to take one example, but could in fact be given new life by bad policy decisions on the part of the United States.

If you want to take punitive action, then be open about it, and at least discuss the fairly easy to discern negative outcomes that will go along with it. At least up to this point, I have not seen anything resembling that. Instead, the all-inclusive "more" is aimed at the Obama administration without any specific pros and cons, or specific anything. No matter what you think of Iran's presence in Latin America, however, it is critical to remember that doing "more" blindly can produce the opposite outcome of that desired.*

This reminds me so much of the Cuba embargo, where supporters never articulate a connection between policy and political outcome, in no small part because it is not possible. Action for the sake of saying you're doing something is bad policy making, and will lead to something you don't want.

* It is also worth noting that U.S. policy toward Iran from the 1940s to the 1970s helped to produce the exact opposite outcome of what we wanted.


boz 9:01 AM  

Even Barack Obama seems to be telling himself to do more.

There is no quote from the interview where Obama says or implies the US should be doing "more". I'm not sure where you get that from.

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