What to do about the Iranian threat
A multitude of foreign policy challenges, perhaps chief among them how to deal with the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran, awaits President-elect Barack Obama.
The global consequences of a nuclear-armed theocratic regime with an extremist, expansionist ideology were not lost on candidate Obama. He expressed a keen awareness that as president he must confront Tehran’s quest for nuclear weapons, subversion and terrorism in Iraq and strategy of regional domination. In July he said: “We cannot tolerate nuclear weapons in the hands of nations that support terror. Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a vital national security interest of the United States.”
In March 2007, in an address in Chicago, Obama called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “reckless, irresponsible and inattentive” to the needs of the Iranian people. The U.S., he said, must engage in “aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions” to defuse Tehran’s nuclear threat.
U.S.-Iran policy has been described as the “Bermuda Triangle” of U.S. presidents since 1979. What are the mistakes the next administration cannot afford to repeat?
Negotiation, while clearly the most desirable means of resolving international conflict, has time and again proven futile in the case of Tehran. Iran’s rulers consider their supreme leader as God’s regent on Earth. Successive American administrations and their European allies have been down that road, each time only to reach a dead end.
These failures have legitimized the theocratic regime, emboldening more rogue behavior and demands. Even worse, they have given Tehran time to advance its nuclear weapons program.
The survival of this unpopular regime depends on being in a state of perpetual crisis. The Iranian theocracy is incapable of acting as a “normal” state or enacting the kind of behavioral changes the free world demands. The ayatollahs know, even if the West does not, that they cannot thrive by acting “normal.”
Tehran’s strategic interests in advancing a nuclear weapons program, establishing a client state in Iraq and ruling through terror and suppression are fundamentally at odds with international and regional order. These are red lines the ruling clerics will not cross.
Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution writes in his book “The Persian Puzzle,” “The problem with the Grand Bargain is that it does not work in practice. Every American administration since