Since Israel’s recent election, people have begun to realize that the ruling Israeli elite from its major parties is trying to constrain Obama from fundamentally altering U.S.-Iran relations. Having concluded that it cannot immediately provoke a U.S.-Iran war for its own benefit, Israel is instead, according to this interpretation, resigned to seeing some U.S.-Iranian discussions and now hopes only to minimize the meaning and duration of those talks. This is a polite circumlocution for sabotaging the talks and damaging U.S. national security.
Given the 60-year history of U.S.-Iranian “misunderstandings,” brief, pointed discussions about one or two individual issues can hardly accomplish anything except to create further misunderstanding—precisely Israel’s purpose.
- Misunderstanding #1: U.S. coup against democratic forces and institution of Shah’s dictatorship;
- Misunderstanding #2: Continued U.S. support for the Shah despite the viciousness of his Savak secret police;
- Misunderstanding #3: Iranian kidnapping of U.S. diplomats despite the “friendship” of the U.S. for Iran;
- Misunderstanding #4: U.S. support for Saddam’s Iraq after it invaded Iran;
- Misunderstanding #5: Three Stooges comedy routine known as “Iran-Contra;”
Misunderstanding #6: Insulting Iran as part of an “axis of evil” after Iran helped the U.S. conquer Afghanistan;
- Misunderstanding #7: Imagining that Iran would sit passively by while the U.S. conquered neighboring Iraq and set up seemingly permanent military bases;
- Misunderstanding #8: The idea that Iran and Pakistan are separate issues when the Baluchi people live on both sides of the border and are in revolt against Pakistani repression.
One can imagine that at least some decision-makers in the U.S. might want from Iran:
- Reduced support for insurgencies in the Levant;
- Putting on ice any plans to militarize nuclear capabilities;
- A deal that would allow U.S. forces to leave Iraq peacefully;
- A land supply route into Afghanistan;
- Help pacifying Pakistan’s Baluchistan.
One can imagine that at least some Iranian decision-makers in Iran might want from the U.S.:
- Security guarantees against a U.S. or Israeli attack;
- Acceptance of Iran’s right to play by the same international rules concerning nuclear technology that apply to the rest of the world or by the special rules that apply to Israel;
- Acceptance of Iran’s right to participate in regional affairs;
- Agreement that the U.S. military position in Iraq—U.S. troops, mercenaries, bases--will be temporary;
- U.S. support for Iranian economic modernization rather than U.S. economic warfare;
- Low-keyed, sustained U.S. moral support for democracy in Iran but no incendiary “regime-change” policies.
Any number of ways to make progress on these two sets of goals exist; surprisingly few genuine reasons for U.S.-Iranian hostility exist. But...the first step will have to be some genuine, sustained effort to address the misunderstandings. Taking that first step and having the type of short-term, insincere discussions that now seem acceptable to Israel are two mutually exclusive options.