Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ray Takeyh

Containment Is Coming

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami –  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.’” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami –  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.’” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

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Pressuring Israel Will Not Produce Results in Iran

Jen already mentioned it but I want to emphasize this op-ed by my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Ray Takeyh. I often find myself disagreeing with Ray, but he’s on the money in dispelling the spurious linkage between Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and attempts to pressure Iran. He writes:

Although pressuring Israel to restrain its settlements may be a sensible means of gaining constructive Arab participation in the peace talks, it is unlikely to affect the region’s passive approach to Iran. Indeed, should Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance.

Ray gets it. But I wonder if the Obama administration does? To the extent that there is a strategy behind their get-tough-on-Netanyahu policy, as opposed to pure pique, it would seem to be the notion that the U.S. will reap major dividends in the Arab world by showing that it’s no patsy for Israel. As Ray notes, this is a foolish hope, because Arab rulers base their policies strictly on self-interest — not on a romantic attachment to the Palestinian cause. And until the U.S. shows that it is willing to do more to stand up to Iranian aggression, we will find few regimes in the region willing to step forward and risk Tehran’s wrath. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a sideshow, but for some reason President Obama, like too many of his predecessors, has mistaken it for the main show.

Jen already mentioned it but I want to emphasize this op-ed by my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Ray Takeyh. I often find myself disagreeing with Ray, but he’s on the money in dispelling the spurious linkage between Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and attempts to pressure Iran. He writes:

Although pressuring Israel to restrain its settlements may be a sensible means of gaining constructive Arab participation in the peace talks, it is unlikely to affect the region’s passive approach to Iran. Indeed, should Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance.

Ray gets it. But I wonder if the Obama administration does? To the extent that there is a strategy behind their get-tough-on-Netanyahu policy, as opposed to pure pique, it would seem to be the notion that the U.S. will reap major dividends in the Arab world by showing that it’s no patsy for Israel. As Ray notes, this is a foolish hope, because Arab rulers base their policies strictly on self-interest — not on a romantic attachment to the Palestinian cause. And until the U.S. shows that it is willing to do more to stand up to Iranian aggression, we will find few regimes in the region willing to step forward and risk Tehran’s wrath. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a sideshow, but for some reason President Obama, like too many of his predecessors, has mistaken it for the main show.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Mona Charen spots the Obama blather: “In the latest installment of politically correct, not to say Orwellian, language emanating from the Obama administration, the term ‘rogue states’ has been sidelined in favor of ‘outliers.’ . . .While they were reclassifying Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration, with spine of purest Jell-O, let it be known that the revised National Security Strategy will eschew references to ‘Islamic extremism,’ ‘jihad,’ ‘Islamic radicalism’ and other such terms.”

Michael Anton spots the Obami misleading us on the START treaty’s lack of linkage to our missile-defense development: “Now we have the worst of both worlds: a missile defense system designed not to defend against a Russian strike but nonetheless formally linked to Russia’s nuclear posture. Worse, the Russian foreign minister has hinted that his country may invoke the treaty’s otherwise standard withdrawal language if ‘the U.S. strategic missile defense begins to significantly affect the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces.’ Given that the Russians publicly insist (though cannot possibly believe) that virtually anything we do on missile defense affects their strategic forces, this was not encouraging news.”

John Fund spots the fallout from ObamaCare in Michigan: “The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a culturally conservative area that viewed most aspects of the health care bill with suspicion. In 2000 and 2004, the district went easily for George W. Bush, and Barack Obama barely managed 50% of the vote there in 2008. Mr. Stupak is known to have taken a private poll of his district since his health care vote, and his retirement announcement is a likely indication that he feared he might lose to a Republican challenger this fall.Whatever political bounce Democrats thought they would get from passing health care isn’t showing up in national polls. In districts like Mr. Stupak’s health care appears to be a distinct liability.”

Republicans spot another 2012 contender: Rick Perry.

The National Republican Campaign Committee spots another target: “The NRCC dumped nearly $200K into the special election contest to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12) late Friday, according to FEC filings. The total includes nearly $180K for TV ads, and $12K for a poll. It’s the first independent expenditure for either party for the May 18 contest, and follows the DCCC’s $47K investment in the HI-01 special earlier this week.”

Ray Takeyh spots the danger in the Obami assault on Israel: “[S]hould Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance. . . . Fulminations aside, Iranian leaders take Israeli threats seriously and are at pains to assert their retaliatory options. It is here that the shape and tone of the U.S.-Israeli alliance matters most. Should the clerical oligarchs sense divisions in that alliance, they can assure themselves that a beleaguered Israel cannot possibly strike Iran while at odds with its superpower patron. Such perceptions cheapen Israeli deterrence and diminish the potency of the West’s remaining sticks.” One has to ask: why is Obama systematically dismantling any credible threats to the mullahs?

Can you spot Obama’s “bounce” from passing ObamaCare? Me neither –  in Gallup 47 approve, 48 percent disapprove of his performance.

Victor Davis Hanson spots the likely results of Obama’s kick-your-friends foreign policy: “Karzai or Allawi will look more to Iran, which will soon become the regional and nuclear hegemon of the Middle East. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics had better mend fences with Russia. The EU should finally start on that much-ballyhooed all-European response force. Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea should strengthen ties with China. Buffer states in South America had better make amends with a dictatorial, armed, and aggressive Chavez. Israel should accept that the U.S. no longer will provide support for it at the UN, chide the Arab states to cool their anti-Israeli proclamations, remind the Europeans not to overdo their popular anti-Israeli rhetoric, or warn radical Palestinians not to start another intifada. (In other words, it’s open season to say or do anything one wishes with Israel.)”

Mona Charen spots the Obama blather: “In the latest installment of politically correct, not to say Orwellian, language emanating from the Obama administration, the term ‘rogue states’ has been sidelined in favor of ‘outliers.’ . . .While they were reclassifying Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration, with spine of purest Jell-O, let it be known that the revised National Security Strategy will eschew references to ‘Islamic extremism,’ ‘jihad,’ ‘Islamic radicalism’ and other such terms.”

Michael Anton spots the Obami misleading us on the START treaty’s lack of linkage to our missile-defense development: “Now we have the worst of both worlds: a missile defense system designed not to defend against a Russian strike but nonetheless formally linked to Russia’s nuclear posture. Worse, the Russian foreign minister has hinted that his country may invoke the treaty’s otherwise standard withdrawal language if ‘the U.S. strategic missile defense begins to significantly affect the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces.’ Given that the Russians publicly insist (though cannot possibly believe) that virtually anything we do on missile defense affects their strategic forces, this was not encouraging news.”

John Fund spots the fallout from ObamaCare in Michigan: “The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a culturally conservative area that viewed most aspects of the health care bill with suspicion. In 2000 and 2004, the district went easily for George W. Bush, and Barack Obama barely managed 50% of the vote there in 2008. Mr. Stupak is known to have taken a private poll of his district since his health care vote, and his retirement announcement is a likely indication that he feared he might lose to a Republican challenger this fall.Whatever political bounce Democrats thought they would get from passing health care isn’t showing up in national polls. In districts like Mr. Stupak’s health care appears to be a distinct liability.”

Republicans spot another 2012 contender: Rick Perry.

The National Republican Campaign Committee spots another target: “The NRCC dumped nearly $200K into the special election contest to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12) late Friday, according to FEC filings. The total includes nearly $180K for TV ads, and $12K for a poll. It’s the first independent expenditure for either party for the May 18 contest, and follows the DCCC’s $47K investment in the HI-01 special earlier this week.”

Ray Takeyh spots the danger in the Obami assault on Israel: “[S]hould Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance. . . . Fulminations aside, Iranian leaders take Israeli threats seriously and are at pains to assert their retaliatory options. It is here that the shape and tone of the U.S.-Israeli alliance matters most. Should the clerical oligarchs sense divisions in that alliance, they can assure themselves that a beleaguered Israel cannot possibly strike Iran while at odds with its superpower patron. Such perceptions cheapen Israeli deterrence and diminish the potency of the West’s remaining sticks.” One has to ask: why is Obama systematically dismantling any credible threats to the mullahs?

Can you spot Obama’s “bounce” from passing ObamaCare? Me neither –  in Gallup 47 approve, 48 percent disapprove of his performance.

Victor Davis Hanson spots the likely results of Obama’s kick-your-friends foreign policy: “Karzai or Allawi will look more to Iran, which will soon become the regional and nuclear hegemon of the Middle East. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics had better mend fences with Russia. The EU should finally start on that much-ballyhooed all-European response force. Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea should strengthen ties with China. Buffer states in South America had better make amends with a dictatorial, armed, and aggressive Chavez. Israel should accept that the U.S. no longer will provide support for it at the UN, chide the Arab states to cool their anti-Israeli proclamations, remind the Europeans not to overdo their popular anti-Israeli rhetoric, or warn radical Palestinians not to start another intifada. (In other words, it’s open season to say or do anything one wishes with Israel.)”

Read Less

Obama’s Iran Policy: A Dead End

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Read Less

The Obami’s Engagement Dead End

Hillary Clinton is now decrying the emergence in Iran of a military dictatorship. She declares:

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. … I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians, as well as to those of us on the outside,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, Clinton appears to root for the mullahs. Why in the world are we seemingly bemoaning the plight of the Supreme Leader? Could we perhaps take the side of real regime change and root for the democracy protestors? Too much to expect, I think. Even the New York Times notices the cul-de-sac in which this sort of argument puts Clinton: “But in prodding the clerics and politicians to take action, Mrs. Clinton found herself in the awkward position of celebrating the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Iran today, she said, is ‘a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.’” So the current regime isn’t as swell as the old regime, but we’re rooting for ‘em anyway. And this is what passes for smart diplomacy.

But there is another problem here. If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is infesting and manipulating the regime, and if its reach extends to the political apparatus, how are itty-bitty, narrowly focused sanctions going to work? Amir Taheri observes that the IRGC essentially turned “Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry” in response to the Feb. 11 protests. He observes of the IRGC:

Their leaders are more strident than many of the regime’s leaders, vetoing countless attempts by mullahs and politicians to reach a compromise with the portion of the opposition still calling for reform rather than regime change. Revolutionary Guard generals frequently appear on television to call for mass arrests and show trials. A weak and indecisive caliph, Mr. Khamenei has so far refused to endorse the kind of “final solution” the generals demand.

Abroad, the Revolutionary Guard pursues an aggressive policy aimed at “filling the vacuum” the generals hope will be created when the U.S. disengages from Iraq and Afghanistan by funding terrorist groups and their political front organizations. The IRGC has reportedly created a special desk to monitor the coming parliamentary elections in Baghdad and Kabul with the aim of helping pro-Tehran elements win power.

Hmm. But the Obami are going to come up with very narrowly framed sanctions, they keep telling us. This is to avoid impacting the rest of the government and to keep the Iranian population at large – the same population that has already pretty much figured out who the bad guys are – from becoming upset with the U.S. (although they are actually already upset with the U.S. for granting legitimacy to the regime).

You wonder how the Obami, such smart and educated folks, got so tied up in knots. Well, it seems like they had not a clue about whom they were dealing when they headed down the regime road. The New York Times tells us:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

Even the Gray Lady can figure it out: “And if Mrs. Clinton is correct that the Revolutionary Guards, not the politicians or the clerics, are becoming the central power in Iran, the prospects for rapprochement can only look worse. Not that Iran’s political and religious leaders, so far, have demonstrated much interest in Mr. Obama’s outreach.”

There is only one reasonable and viable path out of this: regime change. Not mullah boosterism. Not pin-prick sanctions to get the mullahs back to dickering with us in Vienna. There are Iranians dying in the street to displace the regime — mullahs, IRGC, the whole gaggle of thugs — and that is the horse we should be betting on.

Hillary Clinton is now decrying the emergence in Iran of a military dictatorship. She declares:

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. … I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians, as well as to those of us on the outside,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, Clinton appears to root for the mullahs. Why in the world are we seemingly bemoaning the plight of the Supreme Leader? Could we perhaps take the side of real regime change and root for the democracy protestors? Too much to expect, I think. Even the New York Times notices the cul-de-sac in which this sort of argument puts Clinton: “But in prodding the clerics and politicians to take action, Mrs. Clinton found herself in the awkward position of celebrating the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Iran today, she said, is ‘a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.’” So the current regime isn’t as swell as the old regime, but we’re rooting for ‘em anyway. And this is what passes for smart diplomacy.

But there is another problem here. If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is infesting and manipulating the regime, and if its reach extends to the political apparatus, how are itty-bitty, narrowly focused sanctions going to work? Amir Taheri observes that the IRGC essentially turned “Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry” in response to the Feb. 11 protests. He observes of the IRGC:

Their leaders are more strident than many of the regime’s leaders, vetoing countless attempts by mullahs and politicians to reach a compromise with the portion of the opposition still calling for reform rather than regime change. Revolutionary Guard generals frequently appear on television to call for mass arrests and show trials. A weak and indecisive caliph, Mr. Khamenei has so far refused to endorse the kind of “final solution” the generals demand.

Abroad, the Revolutionary Guard pursues an aggressive policy aimed at “filling the vacuum” the generals hope will be created when the U.S. disengages from Iraq and Afghanistan by funding terrorist groups and their political front organizations. The IRGC has reportedly created a special desk to monitor the coming parliamentary elections in Baghdad and Kabul with the aim of helping pro-Tehran elements win power.

Hmm. But the Obami are going to come up with very narrowly framed sanctions, they keep telling us. This is to avoid impacting the rest of the government and to keep the Iranian population at large – the same population that has already pretty much figured out who the bad guys are – from becoming upset with the U.S. (although they are actually already upset with the U.S. for granting legitimacy to the regime).

You wonder how the Obami, such smart and educated folks, got so tied up in knots. Well, it seems like they had not a clue about whom they were dealing when they headed down the regime road. The New York Times tells us:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

Even the Gray Lady can figure it out: “And if Mrs. Clinton is correct that the Revolutionary Guards, not the politicians or the clerics, are becoming the central power in Iran, the prospects for rapprochement can only look worse. Not that Iran’s political and religious leaders, so far, have demonstrated much interest in Mr. Obama’s outreach.”

There is only one reasonable and viable path out of this: regime change. Not mullah boosterism. Not pin-prick sanctions to get the mullahs back to dickering with us in Vienna. There are Iranians dying in the street to displace the regime — mullahs, IRGC, the whole gaggle of thugs — and that is the horse we should be betting on.

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Time to Acquiesce?

This morning Emanuele Ottolenghi discussed Ray Takeyh’s suggestion, in yesterday’s Washington Post, to accept Iran’s program to enrich uranium. Ottolenghi identifies the critical problem with this proposal: it rewards Tehran’s past violations of its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations. Let’s look at another drawback with Takeyh’s suggestion: it simply will not work.

Takeyh first (correctly) argues that Tehran will not peacefully give up its nuclear program-there is a broad consensus to continue it among regime leaders. The Council on Foreign Relations scholar then suggests “it is time to discard the formula of ‘suspension for incentives’ for one that trades ‘enrichment for transparency.’ ”

Takeyh, in other words, believes we should try to put an especially rigorous verification system in place to prevent the mullahs from using their new expertise to build bombs. He also thinks we should attempt to get Iran to limit its stockpile of fissile material. And should the Iranians fail to accept these measures, he hopes Russia and China will drop their support for Iran.

Takeyh’s suggestions have the advantage of putting Tehran–as well as Moscow and Beijing–to the test. Iran’s rejection of them–or Russian and Chinese continued support for Iranian nuclear efforts–would make it easier for the West to come together to stop the theocracy. On a theoretical level, this sounds great.

So why are Takeyh’s proposals misconceived? Let’s think how Tehran’s leaders will respond. If I were a mullah, the first thing I would do, to appear conciliatory, is agree to limit my declared stockpile of enriched uranium as Takeyh suggests. Then I would refuse to permit the intrusive measures that Takeyh has in mind, such as constant surveillance, continual environmental sampling, and no-notice inspections. Without these safeguards, I know I could run a parallel bomb program in secret. It does not take too much imagination to see how I could create intense pressure on Washington to keep the peace and accept a system of inadequate supervision. After all, as a mullah I know that the Great Satan’s State Department always caves in at critical moments.

Well, I’m not a mullah, and I am against dangerous compromises. The Iranian regime has already shown itself to be an untrustworthy custodian of nuclear technology. The regime, after all, hid whole facilities from U.N. inspectors for almost two decades in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Since the outing of secret facilities in 2002 by a dissident group, Iranian officials have stalled inspectors, lied to them, and changed their story when it became clear they had fibbed. They have told the truth only when there has been no alternative. Now, they are enriching uranium in defiance of a Security Council resolution and three sets of U.N. sanctions-as well as building missiles suitable only for nuclear warheads.

Takeyh is right that the Iranians cannot be persuaded to give up their enrichment program. Yet he is most certainly wrong when he writes this: “It is impossible to turn back the clock.” The United States, should it so choose, can reverse time, at least as far as Iran’s possession of enrichment technology is concerned. In the end we may decide not to use force, but the option does indeed exist.

This morning Emanuele Ottolenghi discussed Ray Takeyh’s suggestion, in yesterday’s Washington Post, to accept Iran’s program to enrich uranium. Ottolenghi identifies the critical problem with this proposal: it rewards Tehran’s past violations of its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations. Let’s look at another drawback with Takeyh’s suggestion: it simply will not work.

Takeyh first (correctly) argues that Tehran will not peacefully give up its nuclear program-there is a broad consensus to continue it among regime leaders. The Council on Foreign Relations scholar then suggests “it is time to discard the formula of ‘suspension for incentives’ for one that trades ‘enrichment for transparency.’ ”

Takeyh, in other words, believes we should try to put an especially rigorous verification system in place to prevent the mullahs from using their new expertise to build bombs. He also thinks we should attempt to get Iran to limit its stockpile of fissile material. And should the Iranians fail to accept these measures, he hopes Russia and China will drop their support for Iran.

Takeyh’s suggestions have the advantage of putting Tehran–as well as Moscow and Beijing–to the test. Iran’s rejection of them–or Russian and Chinese continued support for Iranian nuclear efforts–would make it easier for the West to come together to stop the theocracy. On a theoretical level, this sounds great.

So why are Takeyh’s proposals misconceived? Let’s think how Tehran’s leaders will respond. If I were a mullah, the first thing I would do, to appear conciliatory, is agree to limit my declared stockpile of enriched uranium as Takeyh suggests. Then I would refuse to permit the intrusive measures that Takeyh has in mind, such as constant surveillance, continual environmental sampling, and no-notice inspections. Without these safeguards, I know I could run a parallel bomb program in secret. It does not take too much imagination to see how I could create intense pressure on Washington to keep the peace and accept a system of inadequate supervision. After all, as a mullah I know that the Great Satan’s State Department always caves in at critical moments.

Well, I’m not a mullah, and I am against dangerous compromises. The Iranian regime has already shown itself to be an untrustworthy custodian of nuclear technology. The regime, after all, hid whole facilities from U.N. inspectors for almost two decades in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Since the outing of secret facilities in 2002 by a dissident group, Iranian officials have stalled inspectors, lied to them, and changed their story when it became clear they had fibbed. They have told the truth only when there has been no alternative. Now, they are enriching uranium in defiance of a Security Council resolution and three sets of U.N. sanctions-as well as building missiles suitable only for nuclear warheads.

Takeyh is right that the Iranians cannot be persuaded to give up their enrichment program. Yet he is most certainly wrong when he writes this: “It is impossible to turn back the clock.” The United States, should it so choose, can reverse time, at least as far as Iran’s possession of enrichment technology is concerned. In the end we may decide not to use force, but the option does indeed exist.

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No Indigenous Enrichment

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh attacks the Bush Administration’s decision to support a new incentive package for Iran. According to Takeyh,

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

There may be plenty of good reasons to criticize the new incentive package–though its exact details are not yet known–and there are obvious partisan reasons, in the midst of an electoral campaign, for Takeyh to accuse the administration of hypocrisy. The fact is, the U.S. administration has agreed to enhance the incentives package because Europeans have so persistently claimed that Iran will concede on enrichment only if there are solid U.S. incentives on the table (an oblique admission of failure on Europe’s part, after six years of dialogue with Iran). But the U.S. is not only offering incentives in the delusional hope that somehow Iran will relent under a mixture of pressure and temptation. The U.S. and its European allies assume that the offer will be presented and either accepted or rejected before the IAEA releases its expected report–due by June 3. A further Iranian rejection–which Takeyh himself anticipates, given statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader to this extent–will provide grounds for additional consensus-based sanctions at the UN level, or at least at the EU level. It may not be much of a strategy, but it is something, and it is hardly appeasement–given that the incentives, once trumped by Iran, will make it easier to tighten sanctions.

What’s the alternative?

Takeyh says that ‘it is time to discard the formula of “suspension for incentives” for one that trades “enrichment for transparency.” He is proposing, in other words, indigenous enrichment, but under tight international control–something along the lines recently suggested by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the New York Review of Books.

There is no ideal solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But to suggest that, because Iran got away with its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is set to cross the nuclear threshold sometimes soon, we have no choice but to concede and hope for the best, does not seem to be the preferred alternative to the current course. After all, there is no tight control regime. Iran may have several undeclared clandestine facilities at work. Iran’s history of nuclear deception makes it harder to believe that what we see is what we have–we may concede on enrichment and transfer of technology and still get an Iranian nuclear bomb.

But beyond the risks of letting enrichment happen in Iran’s specific case, the lesson learned from this debacle would be for other countries to trump the NPT as Iran did and go along the path of nuclearization. Iran would be rewarded for violating the NPT and for ignoring successive UN Security Council resolutions. We would forego our principles and handsomely reward bad behavior–a practice that, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, may well be called “appeasement”: “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles.”

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh attacks the Bush Administration’s decision to support a new incentive package for Iran. According to Takeyh,

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

There may be plenty of good reasons to criticize the new incentive package–though its exact details are not yet known–and there are obvious partisan reasons, in the midst of an electoral campaign, for Takeyh to accuse the administration of hypocrisy. The fact is, the U.S. administration has agreed to enhance the incentives package because Europeans have so persistently claimed that Iran will concede on enrichment only if there are solid U.S. incentives on the table (an oblique admission of failure on Europe’s part, after six years of dialogue with Iran). But the U.S. is not only offering incentives in the delusional hope that somehow Iran will relent under a mixture of pressure and temptation. The U.S. and its European allies assume that the offer will be presented and either accepted or rejected before the IAEA releases its expected report–due by June 3. A further Iranian rejection–which Takeyh himself anticipates, given statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader to this extent–will provide grounds for additional consensus-based sanctions at the UN level, or at least at the EU level. It may not be much of a strategy, but it is something, and it is hardly appeasement–given that the incentives, once trumped by Iran, will make it easier to tighten sanctions.

What’s the alternative?

Takeyh says that ‘it is time to discard the formula of “suspension for incentives” for one that trades “enrichment for transparency.” He is proposing, in other words, indigenous enrichment, but under tight international control–something along the lines recently suggested by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the New York Review of Books.

There is no ideal solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But to suggest that, because Iran got away with its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is set to cross the nuclear threshold sometimes soon, we have no choice but to concede and hope for the best, does not seem to be the preferred alternative to the current course. After all, there is no tight control regime. Iran may have several undeclared clandestine facilities at work. Iran’s history of nuclear deception makes it harder to believe that what we see is what we have–we may concede on enrichment and transfer of technology and still get an Iranian nuclear bomb.

But beyond the risks of letting enrichment happen in Iran’s specific case, the lesson learned from this debacle would be for other countries to trump the NPT as Iran did and go along the path of nuclearization. Iran would be rewarded for violating the NPT and for ignoring successive UN Security Council resolutions. We would forego our principles and handsomely reward bad behavior–a practice that, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, may well be called “appeasement”: “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles.”

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Not Hawkish Enough for the Doves

It’s not only conservatives who are troubled by the new National Intelligence Estimate. So are many liberals. According to this Los Angeles Times article, the ranks of the critics include my Council on Foreign Relations colleagues Ray Takeyh and Gary Samore as well as Sharon Squassoni of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Clinton National Security Adviser Tony Lake.

They make essentially the same point that I and other, more conservative skeptics have made: The NIE puts too much stock in Iran stopping its “nuclear weapons program” while downplaying the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium as part of a supposedly civilian nuclear-energy program that could, in reality, be turned to military use fairly easily.

The NIE seems to let Iran off the hook, thereby undercutting efforts to push tough sanctions and perhaps to make a diplomatic breakthrough. Ironically, the net result of the NIE may be to make military action more, not less, likely. If the international community slacks off on efforts to contain Iran—as now seems increasingly likely—a future U.S. president is more likely to be confronted with the unpalatable alternatives of either allowing Iran to go nuclear or ordering air strikes to stop it.

It’s not only conservatives who are troubled by the new National Intelligence Estimate. So are many liberals. According to this Los Angeles Times article, the ranks of the critics include my Council on Foreign Relations colleagues Ray Takeyh and Gary Samore as well as Sharon Squassoni of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Clinton National Security Adviser Tony Lake.

They make essentially the same point that I and other, more conservative skeptics have made: The NIE puts too much stock in Iran stopping its “nuclear weapons program” while downplaying the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium as part of a supposedly civilian nuclear-energy program that could, in reality, be turned to military use fairly easily.

The NIE seems to let Iran off the hook, thereby undercutting efforts to push tough sanctions and perhaps to make a diplomatic breakthrough. Ironically, the net result of the NIE may be to make military action more, not less, likely. If the international community slacks off on efforts to contain Iran—as now seems increasingly likely—a future U.S. president is more likely to be confronted with the unpalatable alternatives of either allowing Iran to go nuclear or ordering air strikes to stop it.

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The “Pragmatists” in Tehran

Staking out a distinctive position in today’s debate over Iran is no easy matter. Every foreign-policy maven has a formula to suggest or a wider strategy in which to embed our dealings with the Islamic republic. Regime change or containment, carrier groups or sanctions, rhetorical confrontation or bilateral talks, Sunni balancing or Shiite cooptation—what’s the right mix? But most analysts agree on one thing: Iran is a problem, a growing threat, an ambitious and aggressively ideological power with designs on regional domination. Here, then, is where there’s room to make a mark with a bold counterintuitive claim: maybe Iran isn’t so bad.

So says Ray Takeyh in an article entitled “Time for Détente with Iran” in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the Islamic republic has been misunderstood. In the American imagination, “a perception of Iran as a destabilizing force” has been allowed to “congeal,” based on little more than “visceral suspicion.” Whatever Iran may have been in the early days of its Islamic revolution, it is no longer, in Takeyh’s estimation, a “revisionist” or “revolutionary” state. Indeed, its foreign policy has long been “quite pragmatic.” To take advantage of this fact—and to deal with the “manageable challenges” posed by Iran’s nuclear program and its “penchant for terrorism”—the U.S. must accept a “paradigm shift,” offering immediate normalization as the “starting point of talks” and ending the regime’s economic and diplomatic isolation.

Read More

Staking out a distinctive position in today’s debate over Iran is no easy matter. Every foreign-policy maven has a formula to suggest or a wider strategy in which to embed our dealings with the Islamic republic. Regime change or containment, carrier groups or sanctions, rhetorical confrontation or bilateral talks, Sunni balancing or Shiite cooptation—what’s the right mix? But most analysts agree on one thing: Iran is a problem, a growing threat, an ambitious and aggressively ideological power with designs on regional domination. Here, then, is where there’s room to make a mark with a bold counterintuitive claim: maybe Iran isn’t so bad.

So says Ray Takeyh in an article entitled “Time for Détente with Iran” in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the Islamic republic has been misunderstood. In the American imagination, “a perception of Iran as a destabilizing force” has been allowed to “congeal,” based on little more than “visceral suspicion.” Whatever Iran may have been in the early days of its Islamic revolution, it is no longer, in Takeyh’s estimation, a “revisionist” or “revolutionary” state. Indeed, its foreign policy has long been “quite pragmatic.” To take advantage of this fact—and to deal with the “manageable challenges” posed by Iran’s nuclear program and its “penchant for terrorism”—the U.S. must accept a “paradigm shift,” offering immediate normalization as the “starting point of talks” and ending the regime’s economic and diplomatic isolation.

Takeyh’s benign assessment of Iran’s intentions will come as news, of course, to its increasingly alarmed neighbors. It’s hard to name a major conflict or tension in the region that hasn’t been inflamed by the Islamic republic. Iraq has been thoroughly penetrated by Iran’s political and military agents. Syria has become its pliant ally. Hezbollah—a creation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards—has established itself as an Islamist state-within-a-state in Lebanon, while at the same time importing weapons of unprecedented sophistication with which to threaten Israel. Iran has become the leading patron of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and has talked openly of using its emerging nuclear capacities to rid the world of the Jewish state. For their part, the region’s Sunni powers—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf states—have embarked on an arms build-up to counter the Iranian threat, and are even declaring an interest in nuclear programs of their own. Can the regime responsible for this turmoil and escalation really be described as a pragmatic, status-quo power?

In fairness to Takeyh, even he cannot consistently defend the proposition that Iran is just an ordinary mid-sized state looking to solidify its regional influence. While paying tribute to the supposed pragmatism of Iranian foreign policy in recent years, he also (and with no awareness of the self-contradiction) argues that “the prospect of a new relationship with the United States” would tip the “balance of power” in Tehran to the “pragmatists” and put them in a position “to sideline the radicals.” But why would the U.S. want or need such a shift? If current worries about Iran are just a bogeyman invented by the American Right, why not embrace Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei?

Like other practitioners of foreign-policy “realism,” Takeyh cannot resist the wiles of the occasional “pragmatist” who pops up in an expansionist, ideologically aggressive regime. During the cold war, some Kremlin figure or another was always being touted as a clear-eyed moderate, ready to do business with the U.S. in the name of shared “national interests.” Today, Takeyh tells us, there is a promising “new generation of leaders” rising in Tehran. Reformers? Liberals? No, let’s not get carried away. They are “young conservatives” who, while still deferring to “the elders of the revolution,” stress “Iranian nationalism over Islamic identity and pragmatism over ideology.” But of course.

Takeyh doesn’t say how long we should wait for these peace-minded theocratic mavericks to produce an Iranian Gorbachev, but he seems to think that such figures can prosper only if the U.S. rains down sweet carrots on the Islamic republic instead of brandishing long, pointed sticks. His logic here is hard to follow, though. Won’t the “pragmatists” (such as they are) look all the wiser for their counsels of restraint if Iran suffers for the excesses of its “radicals”? Are conciliatory gestures really the only way for the U.S. to try to change the balance of power in Tehran? Judging by Takeyh’s delusions, these are questions that need further study in the more sober precincts of the realists.

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