Promoting disaster: America's feud with Iran

PHOTO: JFK (middle) hanging out with the Shah of Iran (left)
JFK (middle) hanging out with the Shah of Iran (left).

If you read the NYTimes.com, you woke up to some lovely news yesterday:

The International Atomic Energy Agency, in an unusually blunt and detailed report, said Monday that Iran’s suspected research into the development of nuclear weapons remained “a matter of serious concern” and that Iran continued to owe the agency “substantial explanations.”

The nine-page report accused the Iranians of a willful lack of cooperation, particularly in answering allegations that its nuclear program may be intended more for military use than for energy generation.

Despite the administration’s disdain for the IAEA, I’m sure Dick Cheney and his cheerleading squad will soon be on TV spouting off about how even the IAEA now vindicates America’s belligerent stance toward Iran. But our threats of force haven’t and are unlikely to change the situation in Iran. War, for obvious and abundant reasons, is an even less attractive option.

Zbigniew Brzezinski (a sort of Democratic Kissinger) and retired Gen. William Odom wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post Tuesday that outlined a sensible course for future engagement with Iran.

Their op-ed begins with an excellent explanation of why our current combative policy has failed to curb Iran’s perceived nuclear ambitions:

Consider countries that could have quickly become nuclear weapon states had they been treated similarly. Brazil, Argentina and South Africa had nuclear weapons programs but gave them up, each for different reasons. Had the United States threatened to change their regimes if they would not, probably none would have complied. But when “sticks” and “carrots” failed to prevent India and Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States rapidly accommodated both, preferring good relations with them to hostile ones. What does this suggest to leaders in Iran?

And what about if the shoe were on the other foot?

To look at the issue another way, imagine if China, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a country that has deliberately not engaged in a nuclear arms race with Russia or the United States, threatened to change the American regime if it did not begin a steady destruction of its nuclear arsenal. The threat would have an arguable legal basis, because all treaty signatories promised long ago to reduce their arsenals, eventually to zero. The American reaction, of course, would be explosive public opposition to such a demand. U.S. leaders might even mimic the fantasy rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding the use of nuclear weapons.

Brzezinski and Odom’s proposed path is as simple as it is sensible:

Given Iran’s stated goals — a nuclear power capability but not nuclear weapons, as well as an alleged desire to discuss broader U.S.-Iranian security issues — a realistic policy would exploit this opening to see what it might yield. The United States could indicate that it is prepared to negotiate, either on the basis of no preconditions by either side (though retaining the right to terminate the negotiations if Iran remains unyielding but begins to enrich its uranium beyond levels allowed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty); or to negotiate on the basis of an Iranian willingness to suspend enrichment in return for simultaneous U.S. suspension of major economic and financial sanctions.

And as they point out, the sanctions have a direct effect on our pocket books. If Iranian fuel is allowed back into the wider market it should reduce fuel prices, at least in the short term. Contrast that with the expense of a new war and an energy market that would be further disrupted even in best-case scenarios.

If you take McCain and Bush’s rhetoric seriously, they will never pursue open diplomacy with Iran along these lines. That’s the danger of their binary world view in which we are the good guys locked in an intractable battle with the bad guys. It’s a world view that I hope is enthusiastically renounced in the coming elections.

One Comment

  1. Ian

    This is like Iraq all over again. Impose sanctions, let them rot from the inside, then invade. I don’t want to see Iraq happen again in 10-20 years. I think this mess with Iran is avoidable, but McCain and Bush seem to want it.