Covering Iran in Washington means, generally, covering it as a political issue, albeit one that doesn’t hew to party lines.
It’s more about the White House v. Congress — more particularly, the age-old struggle over how much prerogative the executive branch preserves in administering foreign policy.
Even that distinction gets lost, though, and refracted through a political lens of a "hardline" Congress versus a president who wants engagement — although, as I’ve pointed out, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering how the Obama administration has done more to isolate Iran than any of its predecessors.
As a result, much DC Iran copy is replete with two terms: "Sanctions" and "suspected nuclear program," without a lot that explains what either means.
I’m as guilty as any of gliding by these terms without explaining much, so as a remedy, I’m linking to two pieces that try to delve a little further into each term.
At Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner handily rounds up explanations of what the sanctions do, and considers whether they will have the desired effect.
One could argue that the current and projected actions taken by the EU and Pacific Rim might have been a wake-up call to Tehran that it’s more isolated than it had previously thought. Iran is not merely facing the United States; it’s facing a multilateral coalition that’s growing stronger, not weaker. Unless potential benefactors like China take proactive steps to function as a "black knight," these sanctions really will cripple Iran’s economy. The alienation of Iran’s bazaari from the leadership in Tehran would … let’s say complicate the domestic situation in Iran.
That said, I’m skeptical that it will push the current regime toward making a substantive accommodation on its nuclear program. Based on how the leadership has treated domestic unrest, it seems clear that the top leadership is perfectly comfortable following The Dictator’s Handbook approach to staying in power.
At Bloomberg News, Robert Kelley, a former nuclear inspector, explains why he wants us to underscore the "suspected" in "suspected nuclear program:"
Given the high stakes, it’s valuable to take another look at the main source of the tension: Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. That this enterprise is active is widely considered a given in the U.S. In fact, the evidence, contained in a November report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is sketchy. And the way the data have been presented produces a sickly sense of deja vu.
I am speaking up about this now because, as a member of the IAEA’s Iraq Action Team in 2003, I learned firsthand how withholding the facts can lead to bloodshed. Having known the details then, though I was not allowed to speak, I feel a certain shared responsibility for the war that killed more than 4,000 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis. A private citizen today, I hope to help ensure the facts are clear before the U.S. takes further steps that could lead, intentionally or otherwise, to a new conflagration, this time in Iran.