In an article over at the Daily Duck I opined that Barack Obama had most realistic policy on Iran, and Susan’s husband demurred.
If you think Obama has a good grasp on the strategic issues surrounding Iran, we’d love to hear what that is. Talks without preconditions? Talks with preconditions? Different from the Bush Administration how, exactly? Everything I have heard from Obama on Iran leads me to the exact opposite conclusion, that he has no idea whatsoever what’s going on there or what to do, but is just winging it, shifting his position moment by moment to dodge the incoming flack.
Fair enough. I have listened carefully to Obama on Iran with some trepidation, expecting the usual nonsense but I saw no major mistakes (I am thinking especially of the Russert interview). That is not to say that he really does understand the issues but I think it does suggest that his advisers understand the situation and that he has mastered the brief.
Note that while it is not my reason for supporting his policy, recent polling suggests that the public seems to be swinging behind Obama’s readiness to deal with Iran diplomatically.
The notion that you set preconditions—ones that you know the other side won’t accept—before the negotiations is just daft. The understanding of diplomacy that has generally taken hold, that it means that we talk nicely to people, to give them a chance to agree with us, before bombing the c**p out of them instead of doing it straight away, is, at least historically speaking, a strange notion of diplomacy, as is the idea that any policy that is less aggressive would be appeasement. I have no idea whether that crude characterization in any way reflects the understanding of the author of the above comment but it seems characterise the general idea of what diplomacy means nowadays (especially in the USA and UK) and of course reflects a Neoconservative view of the world. Reagan after all chose to negotiate with the evil empire.
The evidence suggests that the zero-sum ultra-aggressive approach that the neoconservatives have taken has empowered the Iranians, whether through the invasion of Iraq, the hard-line approach to the Iranian civil nuclear programme, the freezing out of Hamas after their 2006 election victory and triggering the subsequent civil war, or supporting and encouraging the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. All have lead to a decisive strengthening of the Iranian position in the region and a weaking of the US and Israeli position. Please note that this is not because of Iranian aggression but Neoconservative aggression that has allowed the Iranians to naturally benefit from these disastrous policies. (While the Iranian mischief-making with Hezbollah and Hamas is well known, the Israeli and American mischief making in Iran through support for various separatist and revolutionary groups is less well known.)
While McCain and his advisors have a more Neoconservative leaning, Obama and his advisers are taking a realist position. One of the sharpest and best commentators in this school is Trita Parsi, student of recanted-Neoconservative, Francis Fukuyama, and arch-realist Zbigniew Brzezinski. Trita Parsi an American-Iranian, the president of NIAC and has written a brilliant book, Treacherous Alliance, about the relationship between the USA, Israel and Iran, based on a mass of interviews with the people who have been in charge of Iranian and Israeli foreign policy going back to the Shah’s time when all three countries were allies. Israel and Iran remained allies of sorts after the revolution and Israel tried to patch up the alliance, because it was in Iran’s and Israel’s strategic interest. During the Gulf War the Israelis were one of the few countries supplying the mullahs with spare parts. This was the time when Khomeini uttered the phrase that Israel would fade from the page of time that Ahmadinejad quoted shortly after his election and has been lovingly quoted by Neoconservatives ever since. If Khomeini was going exchange sorely needed oil for guns with the Jewish state then he needed a rhetorical smokescreen, and Ahmadinejad has had his own reasons for reheating these remarks. To understand why you will have to read the book which I recommend everyone does (I will write a review). I also recommend Harry Kreisler’s interview with Parsi at UC Berkeley as part of the Conversations with History series.
The evidence points to a desire for the the Iranians to partner with the US in Iraq and the region (see, for example the Leverett & Mann interview and Juan Cole’s latest dispatch and even Ahmadinejad’s remarks shortly after the release of the NIE report on Iran in November). Khamanei agreed to a grand strategic bargain in 2003 (see the Leverett & Mann interview) and he would surely do the same again, but it will require the State Department working out is needed from the Iranians and what can be offered return—diplomacy 101 and something that seems to be a distant and hazy memory. This was the point that Gates made recently. There is much scope for cooperation with the US and Iranian governments backing the same administrations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Note that the Iranians (and of course Khamanei, the supreme leader) were happy in 2003 to countenance demilitarising Hizbollah, ending support for rejectionist palestinian groups, working to stabilize Iraq (which they have been doing anyway), putting in place guarantees for their nuclear programme and de facto recognition of Israel (see the Leverett & Mann interview). In return tyhe Iranians want a strategic partnership with the USA and an end to their civil nuclear programme being obstructed.
This is all on the public record but it forms no part of the standard narrative, just as it was well known that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed no threat in 2002 but it was ignored because it didn’t fit the regime change narrative settled on after the ’91 gulf war. Also on the record is the assistance the Iranians provided in the invasion of Afghanistan (they facilitated the whole show, at a time when they were actively persuing détente—see, for example, Treacherous Alliance), yet this is ignored also, the public discourse seemingly content to operate in a near information vacuum and happy to follow the lead set by the governmetns. I recommend reading the writings of Scott Ritter, Trita Parsi, Juan Cole, Gareth Porter and especially Leverett & Mann on the subject, people with diverse poliical backgrounds and who have expended no little effort observing and investigating reality as it relates to relations between the US and Iran.
Barack Obama statements suggest that he (or his advisers) are adhering to the realist school’s analysis and will pursue this line. We do not need more reality-challenged Neoconservative belligerence.