James Forsyth

The Obama administration must pursue a unified Iran policy 

The Obama administration must pursue a unified Iran policy 
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The greatest foreign policy challenge the Obama administration faces is Iran. The problem posed by Iran is compounded by the sheer number of ways in which Iran is a problem for the US. First and foremost, there is Iran’s nuclear programme. But then there is also Iran’s support for Shiite extremists in Iraq, its role as the major backer of the rejectionists of Hamas and Hezbollah and its desire to make life even more difficult for the US in Afghanistan.

This makes policy coordination essential, it is no use the US pursuing one policy in one area only to undercut it elsewhere. But Michael Crowley’s excellent piece on Hillary Clinton’s State Department indicates that there is a real danger of a whole string of separate Iran policies emerging with Dennis Ross, who has the Iran portfolio, not being given the authority he needs:

“During the early primaries, Ross straddled the fence between Clinton and Obama. But he quickly emerged as a top Obama adviser last summer, suggesting to some Clintonites that he'd been less neutral than he appeared. As a result, Ross felt that "he wouldn't really be welcome in Hillaryland," says one source familiar with the situation. After the election, Ross and James Jones, Obama's pick to run the National Security Council, initially discussed a White House job coordinating all U.S. policy from the Middle East to South Asia. According to this version of events, supported by a second source with close State Department contacts, Clinton balked at seeing Ross with so much authority over her department's work and brought him to State. With other envoys assigned to the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan, Ross will now focus on Iran, but, given the deep connection between Iran and Israel policy, it's unclear how he will coordinate with Mitchell. From another direction, meanwhile, Holbrooke is now considering a diplomatic approach to Iran to deal with neighboring Afghanistan's opium problem. "How do those Venn diagrams overlap?" wonders one close observer of Middle East politics.”


Bush’s foreign policy suffered from the problem that there were separate policies being pursued by different branches of the administration. There is a real danger of Obama being hobbled by the same problem. Already those who were at the Munich Security Conference are talking about how different Petraeus and Holbrooke sounded about Afghanistan.

PS Crowley’s piece is worth reading for this quote about Holbrooke alone, ‘As Clinton herself told The New York Times last week: "Occasionally he has to be, you know, brought down to earth and reined in."’

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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