Detente with Tehran? Perils of a 'Grand Bargain'

Article excerpt


These days, you do not have to look very far to find signs of Iranian troublemaking. The Islamic Republic's nuclear program which its firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has likened to a train "with no brakes" shows no signs of running out of steam despite the best efforts of the United Nations Security Council. Tehran's assistance to Shi'ite segments of the insurgency in Iraq likewise does not appear to be slackening, even though Iran has publicly vowed to help bring greater stability to the former Ba'athist state. And in Lebanon, the Iranian leadership is helping its principal terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, carry out a slow-motion coup against the fragile pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Iran's ayatollahs, in other words, are behaving badly.

Given this state of affairs, it would be reasonable to conclude that Washington is gearing up to resolutely confront the Iranian regime. In some quarters, however, quite the opposite seems to be happening. Faced with the gravity of the current crisis, more than a few policymakers and analysts have begun to urge some sort of accommodation with Tehran.

At face value, such a "detente" indeed seems tempting. Engagement with the Islamic Republic, the argument goes, could compel the Iranian regime to behave better in Iraq, forswear its nuclear ambitions and roll back its support for regional radicals. In the best case, it may even lead to a thaw in the 27-year-old cold war between Washington and Tehran.

Yet there are at least three reasons why "doing a deal" with the Islamic Republic is both potentially disastrous and ultimately self-defeating.

The first has to do with regime ideology. The Islamic Republic established by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 is far more than simply a nation-state. Rather, it was and remains a radical revolutionary movement. According to the country's 1979 constitution, Iran's clerical army, the Pasdaran, is tasked not only with the national defense, but also with "fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God's way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God's law throughout the world."

The goal of the Iranian regime, in other words, is not to become a part of the world community, but to overturn it. Such a government has no interest in a diplomatic bargain that would diminish its international standing irrespective of how attractive such an arrangement might happen to be to the West. …