Push cost of Iran's nuclear program beyond breaking point

Mark Garten/UN Photo

Article Highlights

  • Iran's track record for diplomacy is poor--instead, look to what HAS worked

    Tweet This

  • US must raise the cost of Iran's nuclear program beyond the breaking point

    Tweet This

  • Any serious #2012 candidate must look beyond diplomacy strategy in #Iran

    Tweet This

This post is part of an ongoing series preparing for the AEI/CNN/Heritage National Security & Foreign Policy GOP presidential debate on November 22.

Engagement with Iran was Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy issue. During the Democratic primaries, Obama promised to meet the leaders of Iran “without preconditions.” Less than a week after taking office, Obama told al-Arabiya’s satellite network, “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” Obama subsequently sent Iran’s supreme leader two letters seeking dialogue.

Iran’s leadership dismissed all of Obama’s entreaties out of hand. When Obama waived preconditions, Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad asserted their own, not the least of which was an American withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. When the United States suggested opening an American diplomat-staffed visa office in Tehran, Iran’s leadership said no. When the American Navy sought a hotline to defuse any crisis in the Persian Gulf, the Iranian government said that if the United States just left the region, then there would be no chance of a crisis.

Nothing Obama did was new. Every president since Carter has tried to engage the Islamic Republic diplomatically. Carter had sent letters, which were returned. Reagan had sought to negotiate over American hostages. Like Obama, the elder George Bush had extended an olive branch during his inaugural speech. Clinton became entranced with reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s call for a “Dialogue of Civilizations.” George W. Bush repeatedly allowed his diplomats to sit down with their Iranian counterparts.

The track record for their diplomacy is poor: Iran remains the largest state-sponsor of terrorism, its ballistic missile program has expanded to the brink of intercontinental capability, and the regime appears to be on the brink of break-out nuclear weapons capability. The reformists upon whom the White House pins its hopes argue with their hardline rivals not about whether Iran’s nuclear capability is right or wrong, but rather who deserves credit for advancing it so far. Khatami’s aides have gone so far as to brag that they duped the West with their dialogue of civilizations rhetoric.

Because neither diplomacy nor narrowly constructed sanctions have worked, it might be useful for the next occupant of the Oval Office to consider what has: In 1981, after years of fruitless diplomacy, Khomeini suddenly agreed to release American hostages. The reason was not some new diplomatic initiative, but rather the outbreak of war with Iraq: Suddenly, the cost of Iran’s isolation had become too great to bear.

After two years, the Iranian military finally pushed back the Iraqi invasion; Khomeini swore Iran would keep up the fight until Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fell. There followed six years of stalemate. In 1988, with Iran’s economy decimated and a generation lost, Khomeini finally reversed course. Declaring his decision like drinking a chalice of poison, he agreed to a ceasefire. The cost of pursuing his revolutionary policy had simply become too great to bear.

If the next administration aims to force Tehran to reconsider its pursuit of nuclear weapons, it must raise the cost of Iran’s nuclear program beyond the breaking point. Any serious candidate should explain which strategies they will employ not only to bring Iran to the table, but to raise the cost of defiance beyond Tehran’s tolerance.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Rubin


  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.


    Follow Michael Rubin on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-5851
    Email: mrubin@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Ahmad Majidyar
    Phone: 202-862-5845
    Email: ahmad.majidyar@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The money in banking: Comparing salaries of bank and bank regulatory employees
image What Obama should say about China in Japan
image A key to college success: Involved dads
image China takes the fight to space
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.