The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and The Stimson Center’s joint study group report (PDF) on U.S.-Iran Policy calls for a massive overhaul in the U.S.’s policy of engagement of coercion and argues for a policy of “strategic engagement” to persuade Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program.
At the core of the joint study group’s findings is a call for renewed emphasis on negotiations and a condemnation of those Washington policymakers who make official references to “military options.”
The policy group findings include calls for: the U.S. and its allies to offer a transparent package of incentives if Iran reaches a mutually acceptable agreement on the nuclear issue with the P5+1; Washington to signal its clear acceptance of Iran’s enrichment rights; and a willingness for the U.S. to discuss a wide range of issues of mutual concern to the U.S. and Iran, possibly in a bilateral forum.
These steps, as outlined, would aim to reduce the long-standing tensions between the United States and Iran and offer appropriate venues for issues of mutual interest to be discussed. Under this framework, the nuclear issue would be one, but not the only, issue up for discussion by the P5+1 or the U.S. and Iran in bilateral negotiations.
Furthermore, the study group finds that Washington should continue the current sanctions regime but should be pursued through action rather than “language of confrontation, threats and insults.” While the study group acknowledges that “U.S. military leaders must plan for every contingency,” they also emphasize that official references to “military options” undermine Iranians who are in favor of a negotiated solution the nuclear issue. As for an actual military strike, the study group was highly pessimistic about the possibility of success, arguing:
…[A]ir strikes intended to destroy Iran’s infrastructure, whether by Israel or by the United States, would cement Iran’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons, likely end the prospects for a democratic revival in Iran indefinitely, and result in significant military,political, and economic harm to the US and its allies.
Both Congress and the White House have been quick to tie the use, or threatened use, of sanctions or a military strike to threatening rhetoric. Sanctions have frequently been described as “crippling” and “with teeth.” Sen. Lindsey Graham recently quipped the United States should lead a military campaign that should “neuter the regime’s ability to wage war.” This language, according to the joint study group, only plays into the hands of hardliners in Tehran who seek to mobilize public support behind a nuclear weapons program.
Indeed, the report’s observation that a military campaign would be disastrous for U.S. strategic interests was reinforced today by Secretary of State Robert Gates at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO conference.
Reuters reports him as saying:
“A military solution, as far as I’m concerned … it will bring together a divided nation. It will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons. And they will just go deeper and more covert,” Gates said.
“The only long-term solution in avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is for the Iranians to decide it’s not in their interest. Everything else is a short-term solution.”
(Also see Matt Duss’s analysis of Gates’s remarks.)
And if the strategy of “strategic engagement” fails, the study group argues it will put the United States on a strong footing for dealing with a nuclear Iran.
Strategic engagement will face many hurdles. If it does not succeed, the measures set out in this report will provide a foundation for a policy of deterrence and dissuasion. If, however, strategic engagement helps to advance a comprehensive solution to the escalating stand-off with Iran, it will be far preferable to a march towards war or to a policy directed at deterring Iran after it has succeeded in acquiring a nuclear-weapons capability.