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How to Punish Iran, not Iranians

By Jamsheed K. Choksy and Carol E. B. Choksy

Peter Wilson: Those in Glass Houses...

Peter WilsonHopes that an Obama presidency could thaw ties between the United States and Venezuela are quickly receding after President Hugo Chávez called the U.S. president an "ignoramus" this past weekend. Chávez went on the offensive Sunday, during his weekly broadcast over remarks President Barack Obama made two months ago criticizing the Venezuelan leader for supporting Colombian guerillas and being an obstacle to regional progress. The new Chávez offensive coincides with stepped up attacks against the country's opposition and fresh overtures to Moscow, including the offer of Venezuelan airfields for Russian long-range bombers. It also dents rumors of an impending thaw in ties between the two countries after Chávez's meeting last week with U.S. Congressman William Delahunt. Chávez's blunt talk may be intended to take away some of Obama's thunder at next month's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, when the two leaders will be jockeying for position and press attention. The Venezuelan head of state, who wants to be acknowledged as a regional leader, may also be smarting after Obama met Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva earlier this month, signaling that the new U.S. administration's principal focus in Latin America is, for now, Brazil. Chávez, who just won voter approval last month to abolish the country's presidential term limits, may also be attempting a preemptive strike as differences with Washington are bound to increase in the coming weeks. (The de facto leader of the Venezuelan opposition, Manuel Rosales, is expected to be arrested for alleged corruption within days, which will inevitably raise political tensions in the country and raise charges of political repression.) Chávez has also sought to limit the power of opposition governors, who won five states in last year's election, taking control of the three largest, as well as Caracas and Maracaibo, the two biggest cities. Now, however, the country's National Assembly, which is overwhelmingly controlled by the president's followers, has talked about creating a post of vice president to oversee the country's capital—which would in effect strip a major Chávez critic, Mayor Antonio Ledezma, of any real power. To further bind the hands of the opposition, the assembly also rewrote the country´s Decentralization Law, stripping local states of their control over ports, airports, and highways, an important source of revenue. Chávez seems to be hoping that the cut off in revenue to opposition-led states will lead to a voter revolt and the possible recall of anti-Chávez governors. Meanwhile, the president is stepping up efforts to dampen dissent as the economy falters in the face of falling revenue from oil sales. He earlier removed police, hospitals, and schools from control of regional authorities. Such steps, which have been widely criticized by the country's opposition as well as international organizations, will likely be questioned by President Obama in future international forums. Given the war of words that may ensue, Chávez may think it better to step away now from pursuing any thaw in ties, especially as the chances of success seem to be diminishing.

Jonathan Power: On How Not to Press the Reset Button

Precise quid pro quos are not good in marital or romantic relationships. Neither do they work well in big time politics. If made too precisely, they suggest that the other side is not to be trusted unless there is a “deal.” When there is conflict—either at home, with friends, or indeed with enemies—one needs to change the atmosphere, to restore a sense of trust so that opinions and arrangements can be freely traded. One good turn encourages, but not demands, a good turn by the other side. At the end of the Cold War, we saw such magnanimity and Americans, Russians, Europeans, and the rest of the world benefited immensely from it. Two great presidents were responsible for this—George H. W. Bush in the United States and Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. In 1991, Bush decided unilaterally to de-alert all bombers, 450 of the deadly accurate city-destroying Minuteman missiles, and missiles in ten Poseidon submarines (each with enough warheads to destroy Moscow, Leningrad, and every city in between). Gorbachev, taking the cue, deactivated 500 land-based nuclear tipped missiles and six submarines (weapons that could have reduced the most populated parts of the United States to ashes and dust). Moreover, this wasn't the cosmetic de-alerting that's talked about today. Missile silos and submarine crews actually had their launch keys taken away from them. This is why President Barack Obama (if The New York Times has got the story right) has made a big mistake in his opening move following the pressing of the now-infamous “reset button.” His letter to President Dimitri Medvedev suggesting that Washington was open to discussions on the dismantling of the anti-missile site now being constructed on Polish soil (if Russia would lean harder on Iran to halt its presumed nuclear weapons program) was misconceived. What his letter should have said is simply, “President George W. Bush initiated a policy that the United States no longer stands by. We want to reopen discussions with you that will lead to our abandonment of said project.” Full stop. Period. Then, once the reset button starts the music, the notes will start to write themselves, so long as the mood remains good.

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