Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rapprochement with Iran won't work

From today's editorial in NY Times:

It's a great time to be an Iranian theocrat. American military power has removed your most dangerous foreign enemy, Saddam Hussein. American diplomatic strategy has delivered the lion's share of Iraqi political power and oil wealth to the Shiite religious parties you've financed and armed for years and which are now your grateful dependents. Russia, China and the nonaligned movement have been blocking any strong international action to slow down your rush to develop nuclear weapons technology. What's more, you've finally worn down and outmaneuvered those pesky reformist clerics who kept arguing for overtures to the Great Satan in Washington.

It's much less comfortable to be the United States, however, and find yourself on the receiving end of all these adverse trends. Halting the spread of nuclear weapons, improving America's energy security and advancing the cause of democracy in the Middle East are supposed to be three central planks of the Bush administration's foreign policy. All three goals are now endangered by the rising fortunes of Iran's hard-line ayatollahs. The urgent challenge now facing Washington is to find ways to stop enhancing Iran's power and start subjecting it to effective international constraints.

Therefore, it concludes:
What may be most difficult for the administration is also the most critical requirement. Like it or not, Washington needs to start building up its own direct relationship with Iran, a country it has diplomatically shunned since the hostage crisis. The covert and indirect approaches Washington has relied on ever since then have succeeded only in diluting American influence and leaving American governments more ignorant about Iranian affairs than they can now afford to be.
The best argument for a change in approach is the total failure of the current strategy. A generation of demonizing and shunning Iran has left that country's most dangerous elements more powerful, domestically and regionally, than ever before.

I simply can't fathom how the editorial can warn of the rise of Iran's "most dangerous hard-line elements" and yet, at the same time, advise the US to start " building up a direct relationship" with them.

What's more, the editorial seems to suggest that such a deal with Tehran will solve US problems and lead to fruitful, cooperative relationship unaware of the fact that the multi-headed monster of conflicting powers within the Iranian government doesn't allow for such a policy to succeed.

The past US governments all frequently tried to initiate such rapproachment with Iran but the same hard-line elements nipped in the bud any efforts that could lead to a direct dialogue with the United States. In specific, President Bill Clinton's administration made so many concilliatory overtures toward Iran, including apologizing for the US-backed 1959 coup in Iran and the partial lifting of the sanctions. Such US diplomatic efforts eventually ended up in failure when under the pressure of the hard-line core of the regime, the then Iranian government of Mohammad Khatami passed up on US friendly gestures and instead continued with Tehran's belligerent opposition to the United States.

The truth is, unlike what the editorial proclaimes, the problem with the US foreign policy toward Iran is not failure of its strategy but lack of one. For any approch toward Iran, the US administration should first lay the goundwork for an articulate, well-defined strategy as to how to deal with Iran's complicated government, its hostile foreign policies and its economic allies. Absent such a strategy, the US will continue to see more of Iran's malfeasance in the days ahead as mullahs forge ahead with their nuclear aspirations, continue to keep US grounded in Iraq and adopt a virulently more hard-line stance at home.