AS PART OF its Capitol Hill Conference Series, the Washington, DC-based Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) held a Jan. 18 panel discussion about U.S. national interests in Iran. MEPC president Chas. Freeman moderated the event, which he said would focus on issues that are "neglected and misunderstood," narrowing the discussion to the current U.S. "national preoccupation" with Iran-its influences, policies, and subsequent challenges to U.S. authority and Western hegemony.
Gary Sick, senior research scholar and adjunct professor for the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, began by outlining a "geo-strategic view" of the U.S.-Iran relationship. "One of the really curious ironies of the current political situation," he stated, "is that Iran is actually emerging as the pivot of Middle East politics"-and the U.S. harbors responsibility. Sick referred to the post-9/11 termination of Taliban control in Afghanistan, and the subsequent removal of Saddam Hussain from power-Iran's "worst enemies" to both the east and west. While Washington did not seek to intentionally bolster the position of Iran, asserted the author of October Surprise (available from the AET Book Club), "Iran is enjoying the benefits of our largess."
According to Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and author of Treacherous Alliance-The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel, and the United States, U.S. policies of containment and isolation of Iran have not and will not be successful. U.S. allies "have lost faith, if not in our policy, in our competence," he explained. "Iran bashing has a political cost," Parsi pointed out, not only in the international arena, but in U.S. presidential elections with Americans who favor diplomacy. This is unprecedented, he stated. Washington's aggressive policies also lack Arab support, for fear that they "may end up looking more American than the Americans" and have to deal with a dominant and vengeful Iranian neighbor. Counter to U.S. preference, Arab countries have begun to open diplomatic ties with Iran, as evidenced by invitations for President Ahmadinejad to visit Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Turning to human rights issues in Iran, which he feels are all too neglected, Parsi warned that heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. foster and perpetuate an environment of human rights violations. "As counter-intuitive as it may sound," he argued, "it is actually the opposite that would help the cause of democracy and the human rights situation in Iran by reducing the tensions, by opening up dialogue, by ensuring that there would be inspections not only on enrichment, but on other matters inside a country as well. …