NIAC: Why Iran Hawks Are Pushing Engagement

By Daniel Luban

Andrew Sullivan picks up on this piece from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) blog that came out Friday; it’s one of the better (and most concise) analyses of the state of the Iran debate in Washington that I’ve seen. NIAC notes that roles have seemingly reversed since Iran’s election crisis began: former proponents of engagement (such as Roger Cohen and NIAC’s own Trita Parsi) are now calling for a pause in the engagement strategy while the clash between reformists and hardliners plays itself out, while many hawks who were previously engagement skeptics are calling for negotiations to move full speed ahead — and end abruptly if they do not bear immediate fruit.

(If there’s one point I would take issue with in the piece, it’s the notion that this is somehow a sudden “role reversal” for the hawks. On the contrary, since Obama’s victory most hawks have been more than willing to pay lip service to the engagement idea, all while setting an absurdly short deadline for ending negotiations and moving to sanctions. For those in the Dennis Ross school of diplomacy, a half-hearted and perfunctory stab at engagement is useful precisely because it allows the U.S. to claim that it has “tried everything else” when it moves to sanctions or military force.)

What are the stakes of this conflict? NIAC summarizes:

The perma-skeptics of diplomacy think we should impose an artificial deadline, rush to engage, and then run headlong into Iran’s political paralysis. Their plan would have us miss the deadline, sanction Iran as much as possible, and then lobby for the U.S. to bomb Iran when sanctions fail to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Of course, this is an incredibly foolish “solution.” As every Iran expert worth their salt has noted, bombing Iran is perhaps the only thing that can cement this government’s hold on power indefinitely into the future.

With Israel’s head of intelligence publicly saying Iran won’t be able to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon until 2014 at the earliest, the U.S. can and should wait for the right time to engage.

IPS’s Ali Gharib also had a good analysis of the state of the Iran debate last week which examines these issues in more depth.

[Cross-posted at The Faster Times.]

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. I wasn’t aware of Barak Ravid’s Yellow Cake story. Surely rings a bell.

    Message to Ali Gharib: Consider this.

    Not quite in context, but still.

    Since Germany is one of the recipients of this document, I really wonder if the people in charge of the heightened controls and regulations for exports to Iran really do need this additional hint? I in fact wonder if anyone on earth still needs to be made aware of this? So what is he telling us?

  2. Cohen and those urging a pause are right in the tactical sense. Nothing will come from a U.S.-Iranian dialogue (assuming those currently in power in Iran are even willing to engage in one) until the situation there sorts itself out.

    I personally have grave doubts that the current regime will talk seriously to the U.S. I would certainly leave the way open if they want to take it, but I would also be prepared to wait years. Given the history, there’s no alternative to letting things ripen. An opportunity existed in the 1997-2005 period, but the Clinton administration was far too timid (for reasons that I won’t take the time to go into here), and the Bush administration had no interest (a short-sighted decision that may prove to have tragic consequences).

    The hawks of course are pressing talks because they know failure is a certainty, after which they can plausibly (in their minds) advocate the military option.

    I see no threat to the U.S. from a nuclear Iran, and thus would feel no urgency if I were running policy. I do see a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, if achievable, as having immense positive consequences for our country. I doubt that Israel is endangered by a nuclear Iran, given its counterstrike capability (in addition to its overwhelming conventional superiority — not in numbers, but in weaponry, tactics and training). In any case, as an American, it’s American interests that I care about, not those of Israel.

  3. What percentage of Americans hawks think that another middle east war really will provoke the Rapture this time?

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