An Iran with a popular, accountable, and rights-regarding (PAR) government would not be a threat, even if it developed a nuclear weapon. But an Iran with a president who denies the Holocaust, who will not deny that he called for the eradication of Israel, and who won popular election through a rhetoric and a radicalism that worry even the mullahs is a grave potential threat. At the same time, Iran is the modern heir to a great Persian culture, one of the cradles of civilization as we know it. It is a legitimate rising power, in the sense that its size, natural and human resources, history, and geography all entitle its people to aspire to be recognized as a major power in its region and the world. Our approach to Iran must acknowledge and proceed on both these realities.
The solution is to give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the bear-hug treatment. We should enfold him in an iron embrace, engaging him in ways that either tame him or expose him as a danger not only to the world but to the Iranian people. Concretely, we should engage Iran on three fronts: Iraq, a broader Middle East peace settlement, and nuclear weapons. On all three fronts, we must pursue diplomacy with Iranian political and religious leaders and dialogue, as much as possible, with the Iranian people.
On Iraq, the United States should begin from the premise that the Sunnis and the Shiites are now waging a civil war, leaving only two feasible options for the United States: (1) work with other powers in the region, particularly Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, to reach a political settlement that can be enforced; or (2) withdraw and leave a civil war raging on Iran’s borders. Iran has already signaled that it does not want a civil war that could spill over to Sunnis in Iran itself or that draws Iran directly into a much wider regional conflict. A simmering conflict that keeps the United States tied down is one thing. A raging conflict with the United States gone is quite another, creating a major incentive to negotiate, requiring Ahmadinejad and the mullahs at least to explain to the Iranian population why it is sometimes acceptable to sit down with the Great Satan.
In a broader Middle East settlement, the United States should embrace the plan put forward by King Abdullah of Jordan in March 2002 as the basis for a regional and international conference aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East as a whole. That plan proposed that the Arab world establish “normal relations” with Israel and recognize the Arab-Israeli conflict to be concluded in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution for Palestinian refugees. An additional topic for this peace conference would be the establishment of a Helsinki Process for all Middle Eastern countries, whereby they would agree to a set of political and economic “baskets” of commitments designed to...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $29.95 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.