Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 16, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

DEALING WITH IRAN....Patrick Clawson writes in TNR today that military action and economic sanctions are both lousy ways of trying to influence Iran to remain non-nuclear. Instead, he suggests isolation and containment:

The Serbian and South African precedents provide a useful book of tactics [for isolation]: banning travel by key political figures and their immediate family and forbidding Iranian participation in international sporting competition.

....Containment and deterrence measures should be paired with isolation. We could enhance cooperation with Arab states in the Persian Gulf, selling them more advanced weapons. Or we could enhance our military presence in the vicinity or change our "declaratory posture" with a trans-Atlantic statement promising to defend any state threatened by a nuclear Iran.

Such containment and deterrence steps would show Iran that it is starting an arms race that it will lose.

....Our options for influencing Iran are many. Indeed, we can even offer Iran some inducements, such as exchange of military observers at exercises or limitation of heavy weapons along the Iran-Iraq border. Those measures would be in our interest as well as theirs. There is no need to rush to consider military force or to go down the same flawed economic-sanctions route. Instead, the EU, the United States, and our Persian-Gulf allies should make it clear that they are willing to isolate and contain Iran much as the West did against the Soviet Union more than a half century ago.

I don't have the foreign policy chops to know if this idea is either feasible or likely to be effective. But it's worth having on the table, if only to demonstrate that our options in Iran aren't quite as binary as they're often made out to be.

POSTSCRIPT: In the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria suggests that more aggressive diplomacy may be the answer:

The one man who has had extensive negotiations with the Iranians, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said to me a few months ago that Tehran is seeking a grand bargain: a comprehensive normalization of relations with the West in exchange for concessions on nuclear issues. It will never give up its right to a nuclear program, he argues, but it would allow such a program to be monitored to ensure that it doesn't morph into a weapons project. But the prize they seek, above all, is better relations with the United States. "That is their ultimate goal," he said.

There are lots of reasons to be suspicious of Iran. But the real question is: Do we want to try to stop it from going nuclear? If so, why not explore this path? Washington could authorize the European negotiators to make certain conditional offers, and see how Tehran responds. What's the worst that can happen? It doesn't work, the deal doesn't happen and Tehran resumes its nuclear activities. That's where we are today.

This sounds surprisingly similar to what a lot of people say about North Korea. But can it really be the case that all these regimes want is friendlier relations with the United States? Maybe, maybe not. But it wouldn't hurt to try and find out.

Kevin Drum 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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