Why Clinton Called Iran a 'Military Dictatorship'

A strategy to pave the way for sanctions?

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's declaration that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship hasn't pleased the Iranian government. Foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki hit back with remarks about what he called the U.S.'s own military dictatorship. Clinton's comment clearly wasn't intended to de-escalate the U.S.-Iran standoff. So why did the administration decide to use the derogatory label?

  • Because They're Desperate  "There is a certain irony in ... Hillary Clinton, touring the authoritarian regimes of the Gulf in order to gain their support in confronting Iran for its 'drift towards military dictatorship,'" notes British paper The Independent. "It's a policy born out of desperation as much as rational policy-making." In fact, the publication argues, "President Obama has failed to deliver on almost all his hopes in the Middle East."
  • Because They Want Sanctions  "Of course Iran's turning into a military dictatorship," says Hot Air's Allahpundit. This isn't news. So why bring it up now? "They want to hit Iran hard with sanctions but they’re afraid of alienating the population, so they're going to emphasize that the trend towards militarism is some sort of newly arisen 'illegitimate' Iranian usurper government." Arguing that the the government has always been illegitimate "leads inexorably to the idea of regime change," so the White House is staying "conservative" here. Here's Allahpundit's question:
What I can’t figure out is if they're making a neoconservative Bushian moral case against dictatorship, which realists shouldn’t care terribly about, or a more pragmatic case that while nukes in the hands of Islamic fanatic clerics might be okay, nukes in the hands of a military junta simply won’t do at all. Hmmm.
  • Sanctions and Regime Change--But It Won't Work  Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell agrees with Clinton's characterization of the Iranian government. He also looks at remarks from General James Jones that make it sound like the U.S. is hoping sanctions will magnify internal dissent and lead to regime change. Hounsell doesn't think that will work.
  • Actually, Sanctions Could Work, argues Bennett Ramberg at The Moscow Times, and they're more likely to be imposed now that France, rather than China, heads the U.N. Security Council. Ramberg admits that "economic sanctions historically have a poor record of prompting countries to change fundamental policy." But he points out "a notable exception to this pattern: Libya's decision in 2003 to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The country's dramatic shift from the nearly quarter-century effort to get the bomb marks a remarkable proliferation reversal--and sanctions played a key role." He suggests Libya as a "template" for further action against Iran.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.