Monday, March 12, 2007

Ending Cheney's Cold War Brinkmanship with Iran

After giving us a $2 trillion war, a foreign policy that doesn't make any sense and the lowest credibility the United States has experienced since the 19th, it's time for Congress to put restrictions on Cheney's recklessness.

Here's an article in Foreign Affairs, of all places, by Ray Takeyh that argues detente with Iran and more realistic foreign policy goals:
Over five years after the Bush administration vowed to transform the Middle East, the region is indeed profoundly different. Washington's misadventures in Iraq, the humbling of Israeli power in Lebanon, the rise of the once-marginalized Shiites, and the ascendance of Islamist parties have pushed the Middle East to the brink of chaos.

In the midst of the mess stands the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its regime has not only survived the U.S. onslaught but also managed to enhance Iran's influence in the region. Iran now lies at the center of the Middle East's major problems -- from the civil wars unfolding in Iraq and Lebanon to the security challenge of the Persian Gulf -- and it is hard to imagine any of them being resolved without Tehran's cooperation. Meanwhile, Tehran's power is being steadily enhanced by its nuclear program, which progresses unhindered despite regular protests from the international community.

This last development has put Washington in a bind. Ever since the revolution that toppled the shah in 1979, the United States has pursued a series of incoherent policies toward Tehran. At various points, it has tried to topple the regime -- even, on occasion, threatening military action. At others, it has sought to hold talks on a limited set of issues. Throughout, it has worked to box in Iran and to limit its influence in the region. But none of these approaches has worked, especially not containment, which is still the strategy of choice in the Iran policy debate.

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.

I take the article with a grain of salt and I'm not sure that containment is out of the question if we talk about a broader definition of what containment might mean. But I take the article far more seriously than anything Dick Cheney has to offer these days. In a way, it's a major slap at the vice president.

I can remember in the 60s and early 70s relatives and friends of my parents who were in the defense industry reading Foreign Policy (I know because I was back in their dens browsing through their magazines). Things have a way of coming full circle when dealing with reckless incompetents like those in the Bush Administration. It's ironic that the most aggressive American foreign policy since the early 20th century is crippling American power and America's options for the 21st century.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

By almost hysterically but ineffectually carrying on about Iran's effort to get nukes, I think we strengthen Iran's most hawkish and dangerous elements.

At the same time, by successfully defying the bellicose U.S. and Europe's hand-wringers in pushing ahead with nuclear development, Iran's most hawkish elements gain traction with the country's recently more-liberal and pro-Western young people.

That's because, according to several news reports, even younger Iranians kindly disposed toward the West see having a successful nuclear program as a point of national pride. It's not altogether clear if they feel that way so much about nuclear weapons or just nuclear energy, research, medical products and such. Whatever is being developed, they feel their country has the right, and both international law and notions of fair play bolster that assertion.

So, the situation as usual is that the White House dipstick duo (or, if Rice counts at all in policymaking, the triple-threat trio) are doing their best to make a bad situation worse.

If we cannot or will not strive for some livable level of detente with the Iranians, the alternative is to present them with the choice of keeping their nukes to themselves — no aggression, no blackmail, no back-door sales — or face annihilation.

Detente against a background of a military standoff is a more desirable and definitely achievable state of affairs. But it's not going to happen before regime change in Washington.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

S.W., I can understand the attitude of young Iranians. When I was 12 or 13, I read an almanac that listed category after category that the United States was number one, two or three in the world in the years after World War II. I remember being very impressed and felt something of that national pride. Something of that sort is probably operating in Iran which, despite problems, still has considerable oil wealth.

National pride, of course, operates in our country in ways that we sometimes ignore to our own disadvantage. We're still the most powerful country in the world but we're no longer number one, two or three in a wide range of categories but it doesn't keep some people from strutting. In time, most of us put those statistics from the early 1960s in perspective. But I suspect the current Republican leadership still sniff those kind of statistics like glue. Their delusions of grandeur are their drug of choice.

1:55 AM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Indeed, Craig, one definition of mental illness is consistently demonstrating an unwillingness or inability to know the reality of one's situation and act accordingly.

9:37 PM  

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