Woolsey: Engaging Iran “Worse than Worthless”

Former assistant policy director of the National Iranian American Council Patrick Disney left his Washington digs to go to grad school at Yale. From New Haven, he’s been continuing his good work on Iran by maintaining a blog called Talking Warheads.

In his latest entry, Disney recounts a classroom visit from James Woolsey, the neoconservative former CIA chief, who called engagement with Iran “worse than worthless.”

Woolsey hauls out the “appeasement” argument — saying the United States must choose between being Chamberlin or Churchill, implicitly casting Iran as Hitler. Never-you-mind that Winston Churchill said, in 1950, that “appeasement has its place in all policy.”

Nonetheless, Woolsey calls for regime change in Tehran by “total, worldwide sanctions” that will turn the population against its leaders.

Disney replies that it’s unlikely sanctions will do anything other than eventually lead to war between the U.S. and Iran.

Here’s Disney’s version of events:

James Woolsey, speaking with a group of Yale students last week, said that engagement with Iran’s current rulers is “worse than worthless.”  The former Clinton administration official and current Jackson Institute senior fellow explained that the only way to resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program is to impose “total, worldwide sanctions” that completely isolate Iran’s financial and banking sectors.  ”You have to break the regime,” he said.

Woolsey cited a column he wrote for the National Review last June in which he compared the Iranian regime to Germany from 1933-39 — the period during which Hitler’s Nazi Party rose to power.

  • We may still have an opportunity to keep “engagement” from becoming the “appeasement” of our time, a synonym for “weakness leading to war.” The key determinant is whether our leaders decide to use Chamberlain or Churchill as their model of statesmanship.

Even a worldwide sanctions regime would likely not cause Tehran to change its mind about the nuclear program, he admitted, but it could lead to an uprising that sweeps away the ruling system.  ”I would be much less concerned about the nuclear program if the nature of the regime were changed,” he told our group of students.

Speaking only for myself, I found Woolsey’s stubbornness about diplomatic engagement with Iran short-sighted.  He set as a precondition for American diplomacy a fundamental change in the nature of Iran’s regime.   Yet his proposed alternative – heavy sanctions — would likely do nothing more than put the United States and Iran on a collision course toward the worst of all possible outcomes.

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.