Monday, March 20, 2006

Playing good cop/bad cop with the Iran Freedom Support Act

Peter Brookes has an interesting take on the bill soon come before Congress that has huge bipartisan support. Apparently Dubya isn't too thrilled with the bill because of the sanctions section in it. Brookes gives his reasons why that doesn't necessarily mean Dubya ought to kill the bill.

What the critics overlook is that the mere consideration of the Iran Freedom Support Act, including all of the congressional drama that accompanies it, serves the Bush administration's efforts in dealing with Tehran - and others.

How? First, by dropping the longstanding economic sanctions against Libya (because Tripoli has ended its quest for WMDs and its support for terrorism), Congress shows Tehran a potential upside to ending its hostile relationship with the Washington.

Second, legislative threats are often as effective as signing a bill into law. For instance, congressional chest-beating by itself could deter investment in Iran's energy sector, penalizing the highly centralized Iranian economy, which is heavily dependent on oil/gas exports (i.e., 20 percent of GNP). (A falloff in foreign investment would have the added benefit of limiting Tehran's spending on its own expensive nuclear infrastructure - slowing the mullahs' quest for atomic weapons.)

Third, the bill gives the U.S. negotiating leverage. The president can warn our always-reluctant-to-get-tough European "allies" and our even-less-supportive "friends" in Moscow and Beijing that, even if he thinks the legislation is ill-advised, he will have no choice but to sign the wildly popular bill if the mullahs don't make some serious concessions soon. Call this one: the "Mad Congress" defense.

Alternatively, if major players like Russia and China come into line with the U.S.-European position at the U.N. Security Council, Bush could promise to do everything possible to kill the bill, or, at a minimum, promise to invoke the waiver.

Now, it's completely understandable that the executive branch doesn't like the legislative branch playing in its foreign-policy sandbox. But the Bush administration doesn't have to view the bill as undermining its effort to deal with Iran.

In fact, if it's smart, our foreign policy team will see the abundant opportunities in skillfully playing the administration's "good cop" off the Congress' "bad cop" in advancing American interests on Iran.

That's the ticket... make Congress the bad cop. They've got worse poll numbers than you do Dubya, and the bill would probably restore the public's confidence in you and the rest of the administration after the DPWorld ports debacle. Why let yourself get clobbered in the public eye again?