Don't Give Up: Rekindling Our Relationship with Iran

By Hakimi, Sherry | Kennedy School Review, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

Don't Give Up: Rekindling Our Relationship with Iran


Hakimi, Sherry, Kennedy School Review


After the 1979 Iranian revolution and subsequent Iran hostage crisis, the United States ended its diplomatic relationship with Iran. In the period since, veiled threats and economic sanctions have become the American government's primary mode of engagement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. This strategy has further entrenched the Islamic Republic and undermined U.S. objectives in the region; far from aiding political reform efforts within Iran, U.S. and UN Security Council sanctions have consolidated the regime leaders' economic power and further strengthened the Islamic regime. If the United States is to effectively promote American interests in the region, it must fundamentally alter its foreign policy approach.

This article focuses on three areas in the current U.S. approach to Iran, highlighting the problems caused by bad information, failed statecraft, and counterproductive policies. It then examines four solutions, calling for improved information, renewed diplomacy, increased presidential leadership, and discourse-altering creative approaches.

CHALLENGES BAD INFORMATION

Current U.S. policy on Iran is ineffective because it does not utilize all of the instruments available to the American government. Typically, U.S. policy makers rely on three types of sources to inform foreign policy decisions: the military, the intelligence community, and diplomats on the ground. According to one U.S. Department of State official's account, military and intelligence information accounts for only 10 percent of the decision-making process while data gained through diplomatic channels, coupled with open source information, constitutes the remaining 90 percent. By removing its diplomatic presence from Iran, the United States has severely undercut its ability to gather information about Iran and made it more difficult to resolve a variety of crucial issues, such as Iran's support of Hezbollah and Hamas.

FAILED STATECRAFT

In his 2007 book, Statecraft and How to Restore America's Standing in the World, Dennis Ross, a former State Department and National Security Council official who was a special assistant to President Barack Obama for the Middle East, Afghanistan, and South Asia from 2009 to 2011, describes the importance of statecraft in the context of U.S. foreign policy. He writes that effective statecraft requires "our understanding, effective assessments, the ability to match our objectives and our means, the know-how to wield influence well and to get others to do what we want, and the skillful application of all the policy instruments at our disposal. "Yet the United States has not fulfilled the requirements of statecraft in its relations with Iran. In his 20 January 2009 inaugural address, for instance, President Obama made the seemingly conciliatory overture of offering to extend a hand to Iran but only after chastising the country: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. "Even though this statement did constitute a real shift in the American approach, this opening was largely missed by the Iranians who saw it more as a backhanded insult wrapped in thin rapprochement clothing due to the condemnatory tone. To achieve real results with Iran, the United States must show much greater sophistication in its approach.

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COUNTERPRODUCTIVE POLICY

The center of U.S. foreign policy strategy toward Iran has long been a policy of economic sanctions. But these sanctions have not helped the United States achieve its goals. Although sanctions may have successfully served as a warning to other would-be proliferators, they have not persuaded the Iranian regime itself to change its behavior. Take, for instance, the most crucial fear of the United States with regard to Iran: the acquisition of a nuclear weapon. …

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