What should the United States do about Iran? The question is easily asked, but for nearly 30 years, Washington has had difficulty coming up with a good answer. The Islamic Republic presents a particularly confounding series of challenges for the United States. Many Iranian leaders regard the United States as their greatest enemy for ideological, nationalistic, and/or security reasons, while a great many average Iranians evince the most pro-American feelings of any in the Muslim world. Unlike other states that may also fear or loathe the United States, Iran’s leaders have consistently acted on these beliefs, working assiduously to undermine American interests and influence throughout the Middle East, albeit with greater or lesser degrees of success at different times. Moreover, Iranian foreign policy is frequently driven by internal political considerations that are both difficult to discern by the outside world and even harder to influence. More than once, Iran has followed a course that to outsiders appeared self-defeating but galvanized the Iranian people to make far-reaching sacrifices in the name of seemingly quixotic goals.
Despite these frustrating realities, the United States is not in a position to simply ignore Iran, either. Iran is an important country in a critical part of the world. Although Tehran’s role in creating problems in the Middle East is often exaggerated, it has unquestionably taken advantage of the growing instability there (itself partly a result of American missteps) to make important gains, often at Washington’s expense. Meanwhile, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, properly understood, warned that Tehran was likely to acquire the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons at some point in the next decade.1
President López Obrador's extension of the term of Supreme Court chief Arturo Zaldívar is part of his strong effort to recentralize power in the Mexican presidency and hollow out the independence and power of other Mexican institutions. His other moves to bend the justice system to his will include a reform that lowered the salary of judges but did not improve the quality of prosecutors and his unwillingness to allow an independent selection of the attorney general, with López Obrador himself retaining the power of appointment. His latest move with the two-year extension of Zaldívar’s term is especially worrisome. Zaldívar is also the president of the powerful Federal Judiciary Council. The council appoints and dismisses judges, sets career advancement rules and disciplines judges. Zaldívar will be setting the council’s and, thus, the whole judiciary’s, agenda and priorities for two years. This allows López Obrador to influence how courts will rule in cases regarding the executive branch, what cases they take up and the legality of new policies. These moves are taking place when the effectiveness of the judiciary in Mexico remains limited and deeply concerning. The attorney general’s office has proven weak, unwilling to take up key cases such as against the suspects in the brazen attack on Mexico City’s security minister, Omar García Harfuch—an event that symbolized the impunity with which Mexican criminal groups operate. Mexico’s justice system showed itself equally meek and disappointing in inadequately investigating the alleged complicity of former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and dismissing the case, potentially the most significant case of corruption and criminal collusion charges against a high-ranking Mexican official in two decades. A decade and a half after Mexico initiated its justice system reforms, 95 percent of federal cases still go unpunished. President López Obrador has scored some points, but the already precariously weak rule of law in Mexico, and thus the Mexican people, will suffer.