- By Blake Hounshell
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.
The Obama administration has Washington tied up in knots this week after an Aug. 4, invite-only briefing on Iran attended by editorial writers and columnists that seems to have only sewn confusion among the attendees.
The star of the briefing was none other then President Obama himself, who told the crowd that he saw signs that the sanctions were beginning to work and that he wanted Iran to understand that it had a clear "pathway" to escaping from them by complying with its international obligations.
First out of the gate with a writeup of the meeting was the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius, followed by The Atlantic‘s Marc Amdinder and Jeffrey Goldberg, as well as another Washington Post writer, Robert Kagan. The New York Times editorial page weighed in with its own take today.
Kagan’s article was the most interesting, because he politely suggested that "some of the journalists present" (read: Ignatius) had gotten the story completely wrong. They (Ignatius) thought the president was "signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative" when in fact, according to Kagan, "the ‘news’ out of this briefing was that the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran." (That seemed to be Ambinder and Goldberg’s impression as well.)
A White House official tried to clear up some of the confusion with Politico‘s Laura Rozen Friday, telling her that "what the president was trying to make very clear is that we have had a dual track approach" — both pressure and engagment.
Now comes New York Times reporter David Sanger with an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who tells him the administration has been sending "very clear messages" to Iranian leaders lately (most likely via EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton) that it’s willing to talk. In other words, Ignatius was on to something.
"Clearly," Sanger writes, "the administration has decided to re-emphasize opening diplomatic channels." (Here’s hoping it’s more clear to Iran than it was to everyone else. Maybe the White House ought to release the transcript of the briefing, so we can see for ourselves what the overall tenor of the administration’s message was.)
One additional comment. I realize it takes some time to get diplomatic initiatives going, and the administration is trying to nudge the Iranians toward being productive in their upcoming talks with EU officials, and perhaps tee something up for the U.N. General Assembly opening in September.
But isn’t it a bit early to take the boot off Iran’s neck? The U.N. sanctions were passed on June 9, the United States added its own on July 1, Europe followed suit with surprisingly tough measures on July 26, and Japan is bringing up the rear. So they haven’t even been fully put in place yet, let alone implemented.
Meanwhile, Obama is already saying he hears "rumblings" that the sanctions are beginning to bite. Yes, as Sanger notes, there are signs that banks, energy companies, and insurers are starting to turn away from Tehran. But oil prices are still above $80 a barrel, the Iranian stock market hit an all-time high Monday, and who knows what China and Russia, let alone Germany, are willing to do. So it’s a mixed picture.
My guess is that Obama folks understand all this, but are worried that Iran will be able to adjust to the sanctions over time, so they’re trying to get a deal done before Tehran gets too comfortable. Still, I’m not sure Iran is feeling pressured enough just yet. We’ll see.