Try Not To Poison The Well: Diplomacy With Iran

The lack of any attempt to pursue a nuanced foreign policy with regards to the United States’ Iran question shows a sore disregard to the consequences of rash actions fully displayed by the country’s Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Republican Presidential Candidates are all war hawks in favor of covert or overt regime change, which is many steps further from a draw down of Iran’s nuclear program. For example, Newt Gingrich, “has called for increased sanctions and covert operations to ‘break the Iranian regime’ within a year by ‘cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran and then, frankly, sabotaging the only refinery they have.'” Not only are the crucial lessons of regime change from Iraq not enough for forestall this sentiment, but neither do our adventures with installing the Shah, the Pahlavi Dynasty, and the resulting build up to revolution do much to quell calls to arms.

One of the factors most important for effective foreign policy is the understanding of long existing societal undercurrents and how they relate to the consequences of one’s actions. George Kennan was extremely aware of this interplay during the formative years of the Cold War. Pushing for any regime change brought by foreign intervention in Iran would serve contrary to our interests. The Iranian citizenry would be seen it as foreign attack on their home soil and harden to oust the invasive forces. Once again, our efforts to prod our noses into the balance of Middle Eastern power would sully our reputation even more. The Administration’s handling of the Green Revolution seemed to embrace a nuanced foreign policy. But perhaps they could only read the signals from the revolutionaries who told them directly that support would do nothing at best, and hurt their cause at worst. Bob Wright describes the redux:

In late 2009, negotiators reached a deal that would have defused tensions over the nuclear issue: Iran would send uranium abroad, where it would be further enriched and returned in a form suitable for medical use but not for use in weapons. President Ahmadinejad favored the deal, hailing it as a “victory”. But then the deal was denounced not just by some Iranian conservatives but by Mir Hossein Mousavi, leader of the “progressive” greens. Ahmadinejad quickly changed his tune.

Mousavi’s resistance isn’t surprising. According to public opinion polls done that year, the greens don’t differ much on the nuclear issue from Iranians at large. With sanctions already underway and starting to bite, 78 percent of Mousavi supporters said Iran should not “give up its nuclear activities regardless of the circumstances.”

Iranians want nuclear power for nationalistic reasons. For many countries gaining this access is a source of pride and points to their country’s capability on the global stage. From my perspective even  wanting to equip themselves with nuclear weapons seems like a no brainer, as Israel has massive capacity. The Green Revolution gives us nothing to work with on the nuclear angle. Iran’s internal cogs are slowly moving. Even though the greens were brutally repressed there are still domestic undercurrents that threaten the status quo. Not only is there a rift between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei, but of late figures (including prominent former Revolutionary Guard commander Hossein Alaei) have sought to publicly remonstrate Khamenei for repressive measures.

Meanwhile the Obama Administration’s economic sanctions seem like the blunt end of the stick. It is not clear if the goal is to usher regime change or push the nuclear program to an end. The first objective is an imperial folly while the second sees equally impossible. Instead of offering Iran negotiations, the sanctions push inflation to new records, killing tourism and industry, and creating hardships for the nation. It seems that this road leads to a fork with the hopeful streets of nuclear concessions or internal revolt/external coup. Former Military Intelligence Officer Thomas Buonomo proposes coming to terms with Iran through diplomatic offerings of alternative energy assistance:

Considering the doubtful prospect of an effective sanctions regime and the unpredictable consequences of a military strike or covert action, the Obama administration should consider offering the Iranian government an opportunity for rapprochement in the form of renewable energy technology and financial incentives to help it achieve its ostensible goals.

Iran has abundant geothermal, solar, hydroelectric and wind energy resources that could help it meet its domestic electricity demand without presenting an inherent threat to the international community. This would require substantial investment but Iranian leaders might be prepared to consider such an alternative if the U.S. and other UN Security Council states were prepared to offer it attractive financing options.

Such an initiative would demonstrate to Iran that the United States acknowledges its legitimate energy and national security interests and is willing to take meaningful steps to support its peaceful aspirations and integration into the international community in return for its abandonment of its nuclear program.

War hawks would possibly peg this decision as dreaded appeasement tactics (even though that terminology should not apply to geopolitics in the 21st century). Buonomo correctly asserts that if Iran denies us this rapprochement, we would not lose any positioning. We should be searching for viable side streets before we get to the fork on our current road, but if that is not the Administration’s objective then all calls will of course be ignored.


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