Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Detente With Iran

In the recent issue of Foreign Affairs Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations has argued that détente should be the appropriate point of departure for US-Iranian relations. He argues against containment policy, which has been the guiding principle of the relationship in the past, and which is unlikely to advance U.S. interests in the future. Other notable thinkers have argued on similar lines that containment serves only to strengthen hard line elements by consolidating their power against a visible foreign threat, while marginalizing moderate elements like the Iranian “new right." This movement is represented by the head of the Supreme National Security Council, Ari Larijani; Iran’s Naval Commander, Abbas Mohtaj; and the head of the Islamic republic of Iran Broadcasting, Ezzatollah Zarghami. These men “stress Iranian nationalism over Islamic identity and pragmatism over ideology. (25)” Even though they continue to speak of the U.S. as the enemy and emphasize the utility of Nuclear weapons for consolidating Iranian power, they also argue Iran’s position would be enhanced by working with the U.S.

The “new right” Iranian movement also appears to be realist in its theoretical orientation. As such, if it were to gain influence in the Iranian government, the U.S. could negotiate with Iran using national interests as a reference point. Takeyh argues against what I have proposed in recent posts, that security assurances would foster cooperation by eliminating Iran's need for nuclear weapons. He argues against extending security assurances to Iran, because the current Iranian leadership thinks that U.S. power is in rapid decline and simply would not find such assurances assuring. Furthermore, it does not feel threatened by allusions to an air strike. And as Takeyh notes, a successful attack against nuclear sites is logistically problematic and would have the effect of increasing Ahmadinejad's power while simultaneously marginalizing the relatively more cooperative attitude of the "new right" movement.

Thus, détente seems to be the best diplomatic avenue through which U.S. interests can be achieved. Normalization of relations with Iran and economic integration into what Thomas P.M. Barnett calls the "globalized core" would have the effect of reducing the influence of irrational disconnected religious dogma in Iranian foreign policy formation by exposing it as an anachronistic constraint with no place in the marketplace of free ideas. Greater integration into international regimes would also reduce overly nationalistic attitudes by breaking down traditional notions of sovereignty, while the security dilemmas faced by all sides would ease. Cooperation on the basis of mutual interests could then be possible, and extending security assurances might become a feasible option.

Let us hope that moderates at home will succeed in discrediting the universalistic religious dogmatists in our own government, such that moderate elements within other states may be met with a sympathetic ear for a harmony of real interests. My own opinion is that this will not happen and the American people will be further robbed by ideological amateurs of its post-cold war primacy as we become bogged down in the widening quagmire which Brzezinski has called The Global Balkans.

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