As noted in last week’s article entitled “Re-evaluating the Iran Threat,” it is unlikely that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. However, even if it does, an Iranian nuke would not be the threat to international security that many politicians and analysts suspect. However, the majority in this country seems to feel the opposite way, including President-elect Obama, for whom Iran’s nuclear program is presumably a top priority.
What Obama needs to do, while the nature of the nuclear program is not 100 percent known, is to engage Iran on a range of issues broader than its nuclear program. If it seems like Iran is producing a nuclear weapon (of which there is a miniscule possibility), it will be politically difficult to avoid military conflict, but Obama has to think rationally.
The fact that Obama believes in diplomacy is great, but it’s actually far from novel. To make it truly worthwhile, Obama needs to address more than just the nuclear issue. He should start by reopening diplomatic relations with Iran and attempting to sign some memorandums to normalize the relationship between the two countries. The message has to be clear: The United States is interested in incorporating Iran back into the international community.
If it’s such a problem that Iran is a “rogue state,” then Iran should be given a chance to regain a “normal” status. The more positively Iran is engaged, the more conciliatory it will become on issues of conflict.
For example, Iran is influential among Shi’as in Iraq and is cited as supporting militant groups there. Iran uses these groups to prevent the United States from gaining a secure hold on Iran’s border. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw from Iraq, it would be best to settle things with all groups, including Shi’a militants. Making sure things are okay with Shi’a groups in Iraq means making sure Iran is on board, which isn’t going to happen if the United States keeps threatening it; threats will only add to Iran’s desire to create conflict in Iraq. It’s not that Iran will completely change its policy after a little good will from America, but it has proven its value as a regional partner in Afghanistan and should be given the chance to do so in Iraq as well.
The same goes for Iran’s support of Hezbollah and Hamas. If these two groups represent such large barriers to peace in that region and if Iran is supporting them with arms, would it not be better to become friendlier with Iran and make it feel as if its well being rests with that of the world at large? Again, Iran is not going to change its position after a few friendly gestures from America, but even getting Iran to declare vocal support for the peace plan proposed by the Arab countries (a Palestinian state and recognition of Israel by all Arab countries) would be a step forward for international peace. To hawks, who exaggerate the threat Iran poses, the above amounts to dovish appeasement. But there’s no surer way to push Iran into pursuing a nuclear program or to make it want to undermine rebuilding efforts in Iraq than to consistently threaten it and refuse to engage in diplomacy.
According to the U.N. charter, it is illegal for one country to threaten another with military action. Usually, only the extreme voices on the right openly call for military intervention; the others use the euphemism “all options are on the table.” But everyone understands that some people are foolish enough to want to risk another Iraq. It doesn’t matter if Iran has multiple nuclear warheads. Iraq was not a mistake because the U.S. failed to find WMDs—it was a mistake because its invasion and occupation by America has been a humanitarian and nation-building disaster. Iran may not be threatened with occupation, but any attack on it could have serious consequences for an already volatile region.
The consequences of bombing Iran at this stage, or at any stage, would be significant: rising oil prices, retaliation from Iran-supported militant groups, isolating Iran further from the international community, proving right-wing ideologues in Pakistan and Afghanistan correct in their assertion that the United States is out to get Muslim countries and a withdrawal of Iranian support from the Karzai regime.
Like everyone else, Obama has fallen into the trap of succumbing to an unwarranted fear over Iran. In order for Obama to succeed in the Middle East, he must shun the approach of previous presidents; he must recognize Iran’s legitimate security concerns. Iran may potentially play a very constructive role in the Middle East, and that would be a huge coup for Obama if he’s smart enough to try it. Unfortunately, it’s more likely that Obama will be intransigent in negotiating with Iran and begin a surge in Afghanistan to stave off criticism that he is “soft on terror,” thereby continuing traditional U.S. hegemonic policies and leaving the world waiting for the change he promised to deliver.
Samier Saeed is a first-year international studies major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.