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Iran will be a defining issue of the new
US administration’s foreign policy

By Rep. Pete Stark

A month from now, we will know whether the next four years will be an Obama Administration or a McCain Administration.  No matter who wins in November, the new administration’s approach toward Iran will be a defining part of their foreign policy.

Most of the worry on Iran stems from the possibility that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons.  I don’t want to see a nuclear Iran.  I’m against nuclear proliferation in all cases, and in the case of Iran it could be particularly dangerous.  That’s why we need to analyze the great differences between an Obama Administration and a McCain Administration in approaching the situation.

It is worth noting how Iran has risen to prominence in the region, and made progress toward acquiring nuclear capabilities.  The balance of power in the Middle East shifted dramatically when we took out Iraq – Iran’s biggest enemy in the region – bringing instability and civil war. This is one of the many disastrous effects across the globe of Bush’s failed war in Iraq.

It’s worth pointing out the diplomatic as well as military failures of this Administration.  President Bush labeled Iran a member of the Axis of Evil.  Until earlier this year, the Bush Administration refused to engage with Iran at all without the pre-condition that they suspend all uranium enrichment.  As recently as last month, the Bush Administration has imposed sanctions on Iranian transport companies and has pushed for similar sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.

These policies have definitely turned Iran into an adversary, but it hasn’t stopped them from advancing their nuclear program.  As Senator Obama pointed out in both debates, Iran has gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges that will help them develop nuclear weapons.  They continue to fund Hamas and Hezbollah.

We have two options for how to prevent a nuclear Iran. 

The first is where the neoconservatives are moving: to invade Iran and make sure they’re not pursuing nuclear weapons, as we did with Iraq.  This is the approach favored by those who support the Bush policy of cowboy diplomacy.  While the idiocy of such a step should be clear from the disastrous outcome in Iraq, that hasn’t stopped Senator McCain from singing “Bomb bomb Iran” at his campaign events.

We’ve even seen Members of Congress try to start the drumbeat to war with Iran.  A proposed resolution, H.Con.Res. 362, would substitute bluster for diplomacy and potentially open the door to a blockade of Iran.  This stubborn approach to diplomacy has proved counterproductive in the past.  As we hear echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq, I am frightened at the disastrous consequences if Bush, in his final weeks in office, thinks he has the authority to wage war with Iran.

John McCain and others who are beating the drum to go to war point out that Ahmadinejad has made threatening statements toward Israel.  McCain ignores that Ahmadinejad is not the head of Iran’s military, and would not have control of Iran’s weaponry.  Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has made it clear that he will not attack other countries in the region.

The best option we have to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is one of active diplomatic engagement.  This is the approach that Barack Obama has favored.

He says we’ve got to drop preconditions to start diplomatic talks with Iran, something that McCain has mocked him for (even though former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, McCain’s own adviser, agrees with this approach).  Offering carrots – like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations – would make the sticks more effective as well.

This is a responsible approach to Iran and the policy I agree with.  In Congress, I have:

  • Co-sponsored H.R. 770, which would have prohibited any military action against Iran in the absence of an imminent threat;
  • Signed a letter to President Bush demanding that he refrain from going to war with Iran without congressional support, and co-sponsored legislation to that effect (H.Con.Res. 33); and
  • Co-sponsored H.R. 5056, which would have required the appointment of a high-level United States envoy to Iran to ease tensions and normalize relations between the United States and Iran.

No matter what Congress does, our approach in the coming years will be defined by who is in the Oval Office.  There’s no doubt who’s got the right approach to Iran: Barack Obama.

Representative Pete Stark (D) has been serving California’s 13th in Congress for the past 35 years.  He is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee and is currently Chairman of its Health Subcommittee.