Wikileaks and coalition building against Iran

As the latest batch of Wikileaks documents hits the web, it’s hard to keep track of too much, but here’s a brief comment on something that caught by eye: a discussion of how the Obama administration won cooperation from formerly reluctant great powers on a new, tougher sanctions regime against Iran.

You’ll recall John McCain’s criticism of Obama’s willingness to talk to Iran back on the campaign trail (odd, to me, since that’s the best way to convey even threats), calling it a sign of weakness. Turns out that critique falls flat once you see exactly what the administration was up to, which was ensuring that those countries better able than us to put economic pressure on Iran (Russia, China, Germany) were on board. Let’s face it: without these countries on board, we just can’t do enough damage to make any real difference on Iranian calculations.

Two things stood out to me. (1) The administration might, and I stress might, since there’s no obvious quid pro quo here, have used the bargaining chip of the missile defense station in Poland to get Russia on board with punishing Iran. Not long after taking office, Obama delayed the cancellation of that program, and at the time I posted that I suspected he did so in order to keep a bargaining chip in his pocket with the Russians, and it might have paid off in this case, as they’ve now signed on to the latest two rounds of big-time sanctions. (2) Knowing that China’s cooperation would hurt Iran but that it also gets almost 12% of its oil from there, the US worked out a deal by which the Saudis would guarantee to sell oil to China to make up the shortfall caused by disrupted trade with Iran. As a result, the Chinese are on board.

All in all, not bad, because it’s very shrewd diplomacy, and recent indications are that the sanctions are beginning to bite. Now, will they have an effect? Certainly not in the short term, but should further developments dictate more stringent action, we’ve certainly got the beginnings of a coalition in place, and that might be one of the more reassuring things to come out of this whole mess.