Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

On the horizon: Obama must decide on matters of war

By Peter Feaver After a long autumn of fits and starts, the world is waiting for President Obama to reach a final decision on a grave matter of war and peace. The decision will likely have to be reached and announced in the week after Thanksgiving. That intro applies, obviously, to Afghan Strategy Review 2.0. ...

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576402_091123_feaver93317468bb2.jpg

By Peter Feaver

After a long autumn of fits and starts, the world is waiting for President Obama to reach a final decision on a grave matter of war and peace. The decision will likely have to be reached and announced in the week after Thanksgiving.

By Peter Feaver

After a long autumn of fits and starts, the world is waiting for President Obama to reach a final decision on a grave matter of war and peace. The decision will likely have to be reached and announced in the week after Thanksgiving.

That intro applies, obviously, to Afghan Strategy Review 2.0. But I was actually thinking about the decision on Iran.

Throughout the past year, the Obama team has been pretty consistent in describing their Iran policy as: 1) an unconditional offer of direct diplomacy which the Iranian regime must take up by October followed by 2) a trajectory-reversing bargain that the Iranian regime must accept by December or 3) Obama will shift and push for “crippling” multilateral sanctions.  

By their own accounting standards, the Obama team cleared hurdle No. 1 and are stuck on hurdle No. 2. The messages coming out of Iran have been pretty consistent that the regime is unwilling (unable?) to accept even the modest bargain offered by the world community in September (a bargain that does not resolve the dispute, by the way, but merely, in the most optimistic of readings, buys another year to find a diplomatic solution).

By their own accounting standards, then, the week after Thanksgiving is the time for Team Obama to signal that they are implementing the next phase of their Iran policy: the rapid pursuit of crippling sanctions. They may have already sent that signal. However, the prospects look dim for this policy since Obama apparently made little or no headway with China on the issue during his recent summit. The only positive spin one could offer is that China has not immediately and publicly and irrevocably rebuked the idea of sanctions while Obama was on Chinese soil.  

So in the first week or two of December, our commander-in-chief will announce his most consequential decision in what he considers to be his central front in the war on terror (Afghanistan) and he will likely announce his most consequential decision regarding a conflict that has not yet escalated to armed combat but might in the coming year (Iran). That is more than enough deciding for any White House, let alone a White House that is preoccupied with an utterly unrelated battle royal over health care.

From my distant perch, the White House team looks tired and desperately in need of a Thanksgiving vacation (and not just to me … other erstwhile supporters are concerned, too). But I don’t think they, or the country, can afford for them to take a very long one. Their policy plates are too full to allow much of a break for the more traditional turkey-related plate-filling.

MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.

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