The current U.S. policy toward Iran is more emotion than calculation, born more of desperation than calculation. Bilateral acceptance of a positive-sum strategic attitude would be a game-changer.
Just as a chess game does not begin with checkmate, a state’s strategy should not begin with war. Threats, sanctions, the invasion of states bordering an adversary, the construction of archipelagos of military bases surrounding an adversary, terrorist campaigns to murder enemy scientists, references to “preventive” war, and the open consideration of using weapons of mass destruction against a non-threatening state simply because that state might be building or researching weapons of mass destruction are extremist options that should be saved for extreme circumstances. The possibility that an adversary will want some of the same weapons that everyone else has is not an extreme situation.
The current U.S. policy toward Iran is more emotion than calculation, born more of desperation than calculation. History teaches us that it has little likelihood of succeeding. It is much more likely to provoke momentum toward precisely the disaster it claims to be designed to avoid. The further one pushes the current policy the more intense will become the resistance of a cornered adversary and the more nervous will become the rest of the world.
The alternative is a new grand strategy, a real strategy thoughtfully constructed of an incremental series of consistent, mutually supporting, and logically consistent steps that build on each other to create a political atmosphere in which momentum builds toward a beneficial outcome. The most effective way to achieve this is by designing a positive-sum strategy while keeping one’s gun in one’s holster; everyone knows the gun is there.
A simple positive-sum American strategy for dealing with
should include the
following components, implemented more-or-less in the following order, with Steps 1-7 to be implemented over a period of days, Steps 8-10 over subsequent weeks, and Steps 11-13 presented slowly, keeping time with Iran's quid pro quos, over the ensuing months: Iran
Step 1. Call Larijani’s Bluff.
In initial response to the offer by Mohammad Javad Larijani of “permanent human monitoring” to watch over Iranian nuclear transparency, Obama should respond positively to this conciliatory signal.
Step 2. End Anti-Iranian Terrorism.
Step 3. Terminate Rhetorical Threats. Obama should order that no one in his administration make any further public threats about the
or U.S. launching a war of choice
against Israel . Anyone who violated this
order should immediately be fired. Iran
Step 4. Recognize the Islamic Republic.
It exists; it governs; therefore, recognize it. Then, figure out how to deal with it.
Step 5. Offer to Negotiate Naval Rules of Engagement.
States go to war, sometimes with good reason, but no one wants a war by mistake. The greatest risk of war by mistake now appears to be a naval incident in the crowded
Obama should suggest technical talks to develop mutual naval rules of
engagement for the Persian Gulf.
Step 6. Combat Illegal Narcotics.
An obvious positive-sum issue begging to be addressed is the flow of illegal narcotics out of
, where the war is setting
up a situation analogous to that in Afghanistan during the Colombia heyday of Pablo Escobar. Cali should move promptly to
identify precise technical solutions designed to minimize smuggling into Washington . Iran
Step 7. Avoid provoking sectarian conflict.
should avoid any
participation in minority campaigns either by Baluchis or Kurds to dismembering
the Iranian state. U.S.
Step 8. Offer to Discuss
. Along with avoiding the
provocation of sectarian conflict, Regional Sectarian Issues should at least discuss cooperation
on regional sectarian issues of concern to Washington , specifically in Iran and Iraq Bahrain, according to the following principles:
- Start with cautious exchanges of views;
- Offer broadened venues including other regional states;
- Expect slow progress;
- Use these talks initially as an indicator of Iranian sincerity and be ready to respond quickly to Iranian signs of cooperation.
Step 9. Ignore Insults/Threats From
; Condemn Anti-Iranian
Insults/Threats By Tel Aviv.
Tehran should ignore any
threatening rhetoric from Washington and express displeasure at
any threatening rhetoric from Tel Aviv, setting, as it were, a new standard of
Step 10. Put Mutual National Security on the Table.
Step 11. Make Rejection of
WMD a National Security Gain.
- Offer to support the idea of Russian sales of defensive missiles for protection against an aerial attack in return for nuclear transparency;
- Offer to terminate drone overflights of Iran;
- Offer to limit Israeli offensive
capabilities by removing
bunker-buster bombs from the Israeli arsenal, constraining the use of AWACS, rationing the supply of jet fuel; U.S.
- Offer to advocate Iranian-Israeli talks to constrain the routes of Israeli nuclear-capable submarines.
Step 12. Present a Plan for Resolution of the Nuclear Dispute.
- Offer to support the Iranian-Pakistani gas pipeline in return for nuclear progress;
- Offer to trade the end of sanctions for permanent human monitoring.
Step 13. Afghanistan.
- Offer to discuss resolution of the Afghan conflict;
- Include Iran in multinational effort to plan for the future of Afghanistan.
The point of defining a positive-sum strategic plan for dealing with
is not to solve all the
problems but to create a context within which the problems can be discussed
rationally. Doing business rationally does not mean all cooperation/no
conflict, but it does mean the possibility of mutual benefit exists. Mutual recognition of that would be a game changer. Iran