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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Ray Takeyh

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Ray Takeyh

Last Build Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2007 00:26:04 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Iran: Détente, Not Regime Change

Tue, 27 Feb 2007 00:26:04 -0600

If it hopes to tame Iran, the United States must rethink its strategy from the ground up. The Islamic Republic is not going away anytime soon, and its growing regional influence cannot be limited. Washington must eschew superficially appealing military options, the prospect of conditional talks, and its policy of containing Iran in favor of a new policy of détente. In particular, it should offer pragmatists in Tehran a chance to resume diplomatic and economic relations. Thus armed with the prospect of a new relationship with the United States, the pragmatists would be in a position to sideline the radicals in Tehran and try to tip the balance of power in their own favor. The sooner Washington recognizes these truths and finally normalizes relations with its most enduring Middle Eastern foe, the better. NO GOOD OPTIONS When discussing Iran, President George W. Bush commonly insists that "all options are on the table" -- a not-so-subtle reminder that Washington might use force against Tehran if all else fails. This threat overlooks the fact that the United States has no realistic military option against Iran. To protect its nuclear facilities from possible U.S. strikes, Iran has dispersed them throughout the country and placed them deep underground. Any U.S. attack would thus have to overcome both intelligence-related challenges (how to find the sites) and thorny logistical ones (how to hit them). (As the Iraq debacle has shown, U.S. intelligence is not always as reliable as it should be.) And even a successful military attack would not end the mullahs' nuclear ambitions; it would only motivate them to rebuild the destroyed facilities, and to do so with even less regard for Iran's treaty obligations. What about holding a conditional dialogue, like the one proposed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? In May 2006, Rice seemed to take a major step forward when she announced that the United States would be willing to participate in multilateral talks with Iran over the nuclear question if Iran suspended its uranium-enrichment activities. But the statement miscast the dispute between the United States and Iran as a simple problem of disarmament. In fact, the political and strategic differences between the two countries run much deeper -- and require a far more comprehensive approach. Given these unpalatable realities, many U.S. policymakers have begun to gravitate toward what they see as the least objectionable option: containment. Their hope is that the systematic application of diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions will counter Tehran's nefarious designs in the short term and eventually usher in a new Iranian government more democratic and more amenable to U.S. interests. The idea of containing Iran is not new; in one form or another, it has been the de facto policy of the United States since the inception of the Islamic Republic, and it has enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Washington. Yet to endorse it in good conscience today, one must answer important questions: Can a state that projects its influence through indirect means, such as supporting terrorism, financing proxies, and associating with foreign Shiite parties, truly be contained? Will other states in the region be willing to help the United States isolate Iran? Were Washington to rationally consider its alternatives, it would quickly realize that the answer to these questions is no. But U.S. policy has long been dominated by a visceral suspicion of Tehran. During the heady days that followed the 1979 revolution, Iran's Islamist rage appeared awesome and dangerously expansive. The ruling clerical elite viewed Iran's borders as relics of a discredited past and seemed committed to exporting the revolution. The regional order, however, proved more durable than the mullahs had expected, and most of Iran's revolutionary dreams perished on the battlefields of Iraq in the 1980s. The costly war with Baghdad forced the clerical elite to realize the limits of its power and the impracticality of its ambitions. Tehran persisted with its universalist rhetoric, [...]