Why Engagement’s Failed So Far; What’s next?

Columbia professor and Iran expert Gary Sick offers a simple reason why U.S. President Barack Obama’s engagement plan with Iran has thus far failed: “It has yet to be tried.”

In our IPS piece, Jim Lobe and I quoted much of this portion of Sick’s blogged reactions to the lastest WikiLeaks document dump:

The US undertook its engagement strategy with Iran with the clear conviction that it would fail. At the same time, it was preparing (and disseminating in private) an alternative pressure strategy. This is the most serious indictment of all.

According to the record, the Obama administration was briefing allies almost from the start — and before Iran had even had a chance to respond to offers of engagement — that we expected this initiative to fail and that we were actively preparing the pressure track that would immediately follow.

Iran could hardly have been unaware of all this, so the chance that they would respond favorably — even before the contested election in June 2009 and the brutal crackdown that followed — was essentially zero. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Obama was never sincere about his engagement strategy. It has yet to be tried.

We also drew on comments by Trita Parsi e-mailed to Politico reporter Laura Rozen, whose entire post of reactions to the document dump is worth checking out. Parsi, the National Iranian American Council president who’s currently at D.C.’s Woodrow Wilson Center, says the fall-out from the dump, particularly the revelations about some Arab leaders’ over-heated rhetoric “doesn’t significantly change realities on the ground, [but] does exacerbate an already dire situation.”

Parsi sees stark choices ahead for the Obama administration in dealing with Iran:

Finally, Washington has some tough decisions to make. The cables reveal that even though Obama came in with a strong vision for engagement, that vision has since inauguration day 2009 been compromised for several reasons, including opposition from some Arab states, France and Israel as well as the actions of Tehran. In the end engagement was pursued, but with the expectation it would fail. It is unlikely that the resources and dedication needed for success was given to a policy that the administration expected to fail. The choice now is between trying diplomacy in earnest or prepare for the confrontation that inevitably will come if the current trajectory of tensions prevail.

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Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.

One Comment

  1. Sound thinking here. But the Obama administration failed because we in the U.S. were and are beholden to Israel and perceived Israeli interests, with our own national interest a distant second. Even if Obama had put everything into making engagement happen, he would’ve failed. We need a Palmerston, or rather a revolution in U.S. public opinion.

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