Our new Op Ed in Reuters, “The U.S. Needs a Completely Different Approach to Iran,” opens with a warning to our fellow Americans:
“As Washington and its great power partners prepare for more nuclear negotiations with Iran, the Obama administration and policy elites across the political spectrum talk as if America is basically in control of the situation. Sanctions, we are told, are inflicting ever-rising hardship on Iran’s economy. Either Tehran will surrender to U.S. demands that it stop enriching uranium or, at some point, the American military will destroy Iranian nuclear installations.
This is a dangerous delusion, grounded in persistent American illusions about Middle Eastern reality. Because of failed wars-cum-occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan; a war on terror that has turned Muslim societies ever more firmly against U.S. policy; and de facto support for open-ended Israeli occupation of Arab populations, America’s position in the region is in free fall. Increasingly mobilized publics will not tolerate continuation of such policies. If, in this climate, the United States launches another war to disarm yet another Middle Eastern country of weapons of mass destruction it does not have, the blowback against American interests will be disastrous. Nonetheless, that is where our current strategy—negotiating on terms that could not possibly interest Iran while escalating covert operations, cyber-attacks, and economic warfare against it—leads.”
Against this, we argue that,“For its own interests, Washington must take a fundamentally different approach. President Obama needs to realign U.S. relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran as thoroughly as President Nixon realigned relations with the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s.” In this regard, we note,
“Simply ‘talking’ to Iran will not accomplish this. Every American administration since the Iranian Revolution has talked to Tehran, usually to ask its help on particular U.S. concerns…In all of these episodes, Washington got most of what it specifically asked for. But, each time, Washington pocketed Tehran’s cooperation, terminated dialogue, and used the purported ‘failure’ of diplomacy to raise tensions, impose more sanctions, and come ever closer to confrontation.”
Instead of persisting this dangerously foolhardy approach, the United States needs to take a different path, by
“acknowledging the Islamic Republic as a legitimate political order representing legitimate national interests—and as a rising regional power unwilling to subordinate its foreign policy to Washington (as, for example, Egypt did under Sadat and Mubarak). No American president since the Iranian Revolution—not even Barack Obama—has been willing to deal with the Islamic Republic in this way. Yet we return from our latest visit to Iran convinced this is the only way diplomacy can succeed…
Ayatollah Khamenei and the three Iranian presidents elected over the course of Khamenei’s 22-year tenure as Supreme Leader have all said that they are open to better relations with America—but only on the basis of mutual respect, equality, and American acceptance of the Islamic Republic. Today, engaging Iran on this basis is Obama’s single biggest foreign policy challenge. It’s also the only way for him to rescue America’s position in the Middle East and avert strategic catastrophe in his second term.”
We encourage you to read our Op Ed in its entirety. We welcome your comments about it on this site and also encourage you to post whatever comments you might have on the Reuters page for our Op Ed.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett