Friday, June 02, 2006

Iran: All's Well that Ends Well (Not Yet!)

On this blog and elsewhere I've been urging that Washington adopt a Realpolitik-type approach to dealing with Iran, including a direct diplomatic dialogue aimed at resolving some of the major differences between the two governments. So it's not surprising that the recent news about the U.S. decision to join the talks with Iran and offer it a a mix of "sticks" and "carrots" has produced quite a few emails from colleagues who wanted to know whether the recent development reflected a change in U.S. position towards a more "realistic" approach towards Iran. Jim Lobe provides here a good summary of the good news/so, so good news/we'll-have-to-wait-and-see news involved in this latest development. I'm planning to write a longer commentary on the topic, but let me accentuate here the "good news" from my Realpolitik perspective:

1. Establishing a consortium of Great Powers to deal with Iran: The Bush Administration has recognized the diplomatic, economic and military constraints that make it impossible for the U.S. to force Iran to accept it demands. The Americans have concluded that they need to reach a consensus with the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, since only the combined power of these players could make a difference. That means, however, that Washington needs also to modify its positions on Iran which is exactly what happened here.

2. "Regime change" is out: Yes, Washington will continue to hope that the crazy mullahs will be replaced by political and economic reformers (in the same way that we hope for political change in China, for example). But the willingness to engage diplomatically with the current regime in Tehran means that we recognize it as legitimate. In fact, it's clear that any accord with Iran would probably lead to diplomatic links between Washington and Tehran. This is the same process that has already taken place on the U.S.-North Korea front.

3. The diplomatic Slippery Slope: David Brooks and other Bush administration apologists are spinning the latest U.S. decision as a great diplomatic victory for the Bushies which supposedly reflects the willingness on the part of the Europeans, Russia and China to back the tough U.S. position and use all necessary means to force Iran to give up its nuclear military program, or else! But that's not the case, since Washington has placed itself in a diplomatic process that is creating its own momentum and has already forced it to make concessions not only on "regime change" but also on providing Tehran with various incentives. The Buhsies opened the diplomatic door -- and it would become difficult for them to close it since it would lead to the collapse of the consortium of big powers.

4. The Ball is in the Iranian Court: Some of the critics of the administration's Iran policy argue that the White House attached a precondition that Tehran would never accept -- a halt to its uranium-enrichment program -- so that it could claim an attempt at diplomacy on the way to its real objectives of economic sanctions or perhaps military action. That is perhaps the case. But it's now up to the Iranians to demonstrate that they know how the diplomatic game works and come up with a counter-proposal that would help maintain the diplomatic process in place while putting pressure on Washington. That's how diplomacy works. The Americans have concluded that they need to make concessions. It's time for Iran to take similar steps.

Now... after highlighting the good news, let me interject a few cautious notes:

1. Washington continues to "muddle through" on Iran: The Americans have yet to devise a coherent strategy on Iran that could lead to a bi-lateral deal involving not only the nuclear issue, but common U.S.-Iran interests in Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf. I'm not sure that the Americans would be willing to accept the role of Iran as a major player in the Persian Gulf (including Iraq) which challenges the notion of U.S. hegemony there. I'm more optimistic on the Israel/Palestine issue since Tehran could accept a simple formula: We support any agreement the Palestinians reach with Israel.

2. Iran won't do a Libya: That seems the Bush Administration "wet dream," that Teheran give up its entire nuclear program in exchange for the "carrots." It ain't gone to happen. Hence the need to come up with some creative ideas that would slow-down the Iranian drive towards nuclear capability. I'm not sure that that is going to work out.

3. So... if I had to make a bet, I would say that the Americans will probably take some sort of military action against Iran at some point after the Congressional elections and before Bush leaves office.

Also antiwar.comand LewRockell.composted today my Iraq Like Water Off a Duck's Back to Bush, Blairwhich was orginally published in the Business Times.

And check-out continuing discussion of the neocons for Hillary in Stop The Spirit Of Zossen.

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