Beyond Incrementalism: A New Strategy for Dealing with Iran

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Beyond Incrementalism
A New Strategy for Dealing with Iran Abbas Milani, Michael McFaul, and Larry Diamond

Hoover Institution
Stanford University Stanford, California

Beyond Incrementalism
A New Strategy for Dealing with Iran

Abbas Milani, Michael McFaul, and Larry Diamond

Hoover Institution
Stanford University Stanford, California

Beyond Incrementalism
A New Strategy for Dealing with Iran

In the coming years, few if any countries will more preoccupy the foreign policy attention of the United States than Iran. The United States has long lacked a viable and coherent policy toward Iran. Perhaps for the first time since the fall of the Shah’s regime in 1979, the United States seems determined to try to forge one. The United States must move swiftly to chart a bold, new course that addresses all three of America’s principal national interests with Iran. Our policy should seek to halt the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb, to end the regime’s support of terrorist groups, and to help the democratic movement in Iran. Each of these goals is vital, but they are also intertwined. Compared to autocracies, democracies are more transparent about their foreign policy intentions and their military capabilities. Only when we have a government in Iran that is truly accountable to its people and to the rule of law will we be able to achieve a permanent and verifiable halt to that country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its support of international terrorism. Little progress toward achieving any of these three objectives is apparent. After the United States invaded Iraq, many in both Tehran and Washington thought that

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Iran would be next. Yet next to nothing has been advanced to define a new Iran policy. Consumed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and divided internally, the United States managed no new initiatives to deal with the threat posed by Iran. Ironically, despite its anti-European rhetoric during the contentious debate over the Iraq war, the United States outsourced Iran policy to the foreign ministers of England, France, and Germany, who spearheaded an effort to reach a new agreement with the Tehran regime about its nuclear program. Currently, the only comfort in failing to articulate an American strategy toward Iran is that, over the past thirty years, no other American entity has been able to do so.1 Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, no American president has proved able to devise a proactive strategy for achieving American foreign policy objectives on Iran. Rather, every major policy initiative, be it Carter’s aborted mission to rescue the hostages or Reagan’s ill-conceived plan to swap arms for hostages, has left the United States worse off. Even after the election of reformist President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in 1997, President Clinton could not develop a new mode of dealing with Iran. Instead, American policy has been stuck for thirty years. Today, however, the United States cannot afford to ignore Iran. The mullahs who rule Tehran are determined to acquire nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran is most likely to undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), destabilize the balance of power in the region, and threaten American allies. In response, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be tempted to launch full-scale efforts of their own to acquire nuclear weapons, sparking a nuclear arms race in the single most volatile part of the world. Moreover, an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities could provoke major violence between American friends and foes in the region. Finally, a nuclear Iran will further embolden the mullahs in Tehran to suppress pro-democratic forces inside Iran, as well as challenging and subverting American allies in the region. A nuclear Iran increases the chances of political survival of the Islamic Republic. A new approach requires both a short-term strategy for suspending Iran’s nuclear weapons development program and a long-term strategy of fostering...
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