In his inaugural address, President Obama vowed to reach out and engage with the international community including those nations hostile to the United States. However, it is clear that Obama’s engagement with Iran has been nothing short of a failure. In her recent remarks with the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal, Secretary Clinton admitted that Iran “has failed to reciprocate.” Instead, Iran announced that it will increase its enrichment capacity and produce twenty percent uranium. The Obama administration is now preparing to move ahead on the sanctions front in its dual-tracked approach: engagement combined with multilateral pressure. While Secretary Clinton visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia this past weekend, her deputy secretaries are traveling around the region in hopes of enlisting countries to put pressure on Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. James Steinberg will be traveling to Israel the week of February 21st; Jacob Lew headed this past weekend to Egypt, Israel and Jordan. The State Department’s Under Secretary for political affairs, William Burns is also traveling to Syria and Lebanon, hoping to loosen the links between Damascus and Tehran. Considering Syria is Iran’s closest ally in the region and Lebanon is expected to oppose sanctions against Iran, the hopes of achieving any sort of “crippling sanctions” against Iran’s nuclear ambitions are dim.
In addition to seeking Arab support for Iranian sanctions, Secretary Clinton also took the opportunity to focus on Iran’s government and the Revolutionary Guard’s staggering increase in power. Iran’s clerical leadership increasingly has been eclipsed by a military dictatorship. The 125,000 strong force has amassed considerable wealth and reports directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Infamous for brutality and oppression, the revolutionary guard has imprisoned and killed hundreds of protesters since the June 2009 elections. To make matters even worse, Ayatollah Khamenei is increasingly dependent on the Revolutionary Guard. According to Jim Phillips, Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at The Heritage Foundation, when Ahmadinejad came into office, as a former member of the Guard, he placed an estimated 10,000 loyalists, including many cronies from the Revolutionary Guards in critical positions throughout the state bureaucracies and revolutionary organs of the regime. This amounts to a slow-motion coup by the Revolutionary Guards.
When confronting Iran, the United States must take the extremely ruthless governance of Iran into consideration as well as how international pressure on eliminating Iran’s nuclear weapons program might affect the volatile political situation. If the Obama administration has learned anything from its failed engagement from Iran, it is that Iran’s rulers are not to be trusted and action bearing considerable bite is necessary.