Leading article: A policy of desperation on Iran

Tuesday 16 February 2010 01:00

There is a certain irony in the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, touring the authoritarian regimes of the Gulf in order to gain their support in confronting Iran for its "drift towards military dictatorship". But then that is a sign of just how far the Obama administration in Washington is now reverting to the policies of President Bush where Iran and the Gulf is concerned.

Mrs Clinton's jibe is a calculated one. Faced with an obdurate regime in Tehran on the nuclear issue and under pressure from Congress and the Iranian opposition to show more support for the democratic forces in Iran, the White House is now becoming more openly critical of the Iranian government. At the same time, it is also pushing for tighter sanctions against the country specifically aimed at hurting the Revolutionary Guard and its multifarious commercial operations. The intention is clearly to penalise the regime itself rather than its people. The aim of Mrs Clinton in her current tour of the region is to raise Arab support for those sanctions and add to the pressure on the Iranian government.

It's a policy born out of desperation as much as rational policy-making. The reality, as Mrs Clinton admitted right at the start of her tour, is that President Obama has failed to deliver on almost all his hopes in the Middle East. A settlement of the Palestinian question is further away than ever. The nuclear negotiations with Iran are frozen and the issue has now been clouded by the internal disputes there.

Targeted sanctions may prove more painful for the country's elite military but they are most unlikely to change the government's view or make it more amenable on the nuclear issue. Iran's ambitions have certainly aroused fears among its Arab neighbours but whether they are ready to confront it more directly, openly on behalf of the United States, is a moot point. Upping America's military aid will only increase the corruption and popular resentment of regimes already held to be too much in thrall to the West.

What Washington needs, and what the Arab world wants from it, is some fresh thinking on the Middle East. Trying to revive President Bush's old plans of setting Arab against Iranian and Sunni against Shia isn't that.

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