America and Iran: Compromise, Don't Go to War

As promised, the new IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear activity points to more evidence than ever that it is moving closer to weaponization. Already there has been rather frightening chatter in Washington, Tel-Aviv, and London of pre-emptive strikes and a continued dual track policy towards Iran. But instead of looking at Tehran and wondering why it hasn’t changed its behavior, what we should be doing is looking in the mirror.

What nobody in Washington points out is that our calculus and implementation of policy towards Iran has failed time and time again. What is frightening is that scholars like Ray Takeyh that take credit for the U.S. strategy towards Iran have recently called for the U.S. to “double down” on Iran as a last ditch effort to undermine its nuclear program and force them into submission. Neither sanctions nor the threat of the use of force have deterred Iran from continuing its nuclear program, and quite frankly, there is no reason for Iran to stop it based on these threats.

While sanctions may be hurting Iran a bit financially, the regime, which is obviously the biggest problem, is still intact while Iran’s stockpile of enriched Uranium continues to grow. Sanctions rarely work when used to achieve such lofty goals as regime change and the cessation of nuclear programs, especially if the target country has a rigid infrastructure and lots of friends to use as alternate support.

The “dual track” policy of the United States seeks to both engage diplomatically and pressure Iran into reform through the use of sanctions and the threat of armed force. The problem is that Iran knows that the U.S. is in no position to attack, and it knows that it can withstand sanctions. Furthermore, it has done the math and realized that the cost of acquiescing to U.S. and Israeli demands, which ultimately involves abandoning its sovereignty, is far greater than the cost of non-compliance. Once a country makes that decision, sanctions are no longer a viable strategy.

The idea of a strike against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is a bad joke that Western powers need to stop telling. All parties involved know that the only benefit to this is that it will set Iran back a few years at most. On the other hand, the costs are staggering. Sanctions are hard to enforce and given Iran’s connections to illicit trade networks, won’t slow them down much.

This leaves the West with very few options, except the one nobody really wants to mention: compromise. Policy makers argue long and hard over how to punish Iran, but for some reason fail to realize that this is their only remaining option. Peace and diplomacy will be achieved through the path of least resistance, which is acknowledging Iranian power, moving past the nuclear issue, and opening diplomatic channels to Tehran once again. If the U.S. and its allies continue the psychotic cycle of using the same failed strategy over and over, then Iran will inevitably come out on top.

Photo Credit: Daniella Zalcman

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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