Barbara Slavin Argues for “Strategic Patience” With Iran

In an Issue Brief (PDF) from the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force, Barbara Slavin concludes that “strategic patience” is necessary for the U.S. to further to its strategic interests in the region.

Slavin, journalist and author of Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, writes the Iranian government has succeeded in forcing dissent underground, but still faces a crisis of legitimacy that has driven a wedge between many Iranian politicians on the left and right, and the current leadership.

She notes the Iranian economy is facing a crisis, caused in large part by U.S. and international sanctions. This creates a climate where resolving differences between the U.S. and Iran seems unlikely in the near-term. But, says Slavin, reform or replacement of the current leadership appears more likely as economic and political instability become more fractious.

Slavin predicts the trend of increasing individual freedom and international integration, a movement largely frozen by the disputed 2009 election, will ultimately be difficult to stop as Iran’s young (70 percent is under 30) and educated (the literacy rate is 80 percent) population continues to demand a representative government.

Slavin concludes:

If Iran is to continue to evolve in a positive direction, Iranians will have to lead the process themselves. In the meantime, Washington needs to practice strategic patience and avoid overreactions that could set back Iran’s political development. Only then will Iran be able to reassume its rightful place as a major regional power that contributes to the peace and prosperity of its citizens and the wider world.

Slavin stops short of fully agreeing with Karim Sadjadpour’s analogy that Iran is as fundamentally flawed and unstable as the former Soviet Union. But both Sadjadpour and Slavin seem to agree it is in the United States’ best interest to take a long-term watch and wait perspective and exercise strategic patience. This appears to be the burgeoning realist consensus.

As Jamal Abdis discussed in his Foreign Policy blog post on Friday, shifting the U.S. strategy away from the “pressure” path and towards patience with Iran, will be a difficult policy for the Obama administration to sell to a hawkish Republican Congress.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.