The United States and Iran: At a Dangerous Crossroads
Source: Center for Strategic &
International Studies (CSIS)
On November 8, 2007, Senator Chuck Hagel delivered a speech
about Iran at a CSIS
event on Thursday. The Nebraska Republican told the audience that American
leadership is needed "to help set a new course for a rudderless world drifting
in a sea of combustible dangers." Dr. John Hamre, president and CEO of CSIS,
introduced Hagel, who is a member of the CSIS Commission on Smart Power.
VIDEO | Listen to the Event
Full Text of Senator Chuck Hagel's
"Over the last few weeks, the world
has witnessed a disturbing series of events.
Martial law declared in Pakistan;
state of emergency in Georgia; Turkey threatens to invade Iraq; six members of
the Afghan parliament along with scores of others killed in one of Afghanistan's
largest ever suicide attacks; an escalating drumbeat of U.S.-Iran tensions;
seventy six U.S. Senators supported a resolution urging the President to
designate an entire branch of Iran's military as a terrorist organization...and
the President announced unprecedented unilateral sanctions against Iran's
forces; and, finally, President Bush warned of World War III unless Iran acts to
stop its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability.
These events are one frame of a
broad confluence of events occurring in the world today. In the Middle East,
Iraq is mired in a deep and dangerous
civil war, with dim prospects for national political reconciliation. The
Israeli- Palestinian conflict festers and worsens, and intra-Palestinian
divisions present a pivotal obstacle, creating uncertain prospects for a
U.S.-hosted peace conference. Syria is ostracized and insecure.
Lebanon is paralyzed by a
devastating political deadlock; Iran casts an unpredictable and ominous shadow
over the region; and Egypt,
Arabia are trapped in this dangerous net.
Globally, our relations with
Russia have sunk to a new post-Cold
War low. U.S.-Turkey relations are in tatters over our inability to translate
Turkey's 21st Century Government and
objectives into a relationship of mutual interests that has been the case since
World War II. The U.S.-India civil nuclear assistance deal has been set back and
is now in a state of uncertainty. Afghanistan continues to lose ground...including
record-breaking opium production...and Al Qaeda has re-emerged stronger than at
any time since it was ousted from Afghanistan six years ago. The border
between Afghanistan and
Pakistan represents the most
dangerous zone in the world...and we have little control and limited influence
over it. Nuclear armed India casts a wary eye on its nuclear
armed neighbor to the west.
And, the price of oil edges close to
$100 per barrel. Record-breaking energy prices and surging demand are reshaping
the global geopolitical economic power landscape...from Russia, China and India...to Angola, Nigeria, Venezuela, Norway...and the United States.
The world is witnessing a diffusion of power never seen before that will
increasingly be the norm for the 21st century.
Events are overtaking governments as
they swirl in wild gyrations around us. All too often, we mistakenly try to
compartmentalize and isolate events and issues, and do not stop to consider how
a series of events are interconnected and impact the world. No nation can affect
these events acting alone. Unless nations work to shape, influence and guide the
course of global events, events will shape themselves...and the world, leading to
an ever more dangerous planet.
The uncontrollable and combustible
developments of the past few weeks present the reality of a world at an historic
crossroads. This reality has forced some hopeful and positive recent events that
can guide us to a new consensus in world affairs. Progress in North Korea as a
result of the Group of Six working through a difficult and frustrating
diplomatic-economic process appears to be bearing results...Secretary Rice's
recent meetings in Turkey to address the future of Iraq with its neighbors...her
meetings in the Middle East to establish a bold, breakthrough framework for a
Middle East peace conference in the United States...strong and encouraging
comments by Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas about
the prospect for peace...and the leaders of Turkey, France, and Germany here to
confer with President Bush on the great challenges of our time. The world is
moving toward a consensus of common interests.
We must not squander this moment.
In order to capture this
opportunity, our policies, actions and relationships must be grounded by these
common interests. In the Middle East, that means an integrated strategic
U.S. foreign policy that
encompasses all the nations of the region, oil, nonproliferation, political
reform and more broadly Pakistan, Afghanistan, the
Islamic world and international powers and institutions. One dimensional optics,
policies, and blunt, "black or white" rhetoric, like "you're either with us or
against us" won't work...haven't worked...and will fall far short of what is
expected from American leadership.
As Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann,
President of the American Academy of Diplomacy, wrote in his
article, "Borderline Insanity: Thinking Big About Afghanistan," in the current
edition of The American Interest, "beyond the challenge of dealing with multiple
actors...is the challenge of integrating the multiple parts. Precisely because
every part is difficult for someone, all of the parts need to be brought
together as a package, so that commitments can balance and sustain each other."
Ambassador Neumann went on to say, "that's the only way to de-fang the terrorist
threat incubating in this critical part of the world." Ambassador Neumann has
stated the essence of 21st century diplomacy.
The world we live in today is an
incredibly complex and interconnected web of many interests...political, security,
economic, cultural, religious and societal. A 21st Century frame of reference
will be required to address the layers of global challenges that face the six
and a half billion citizens of the world. Loose talk of World War III,
intimidation, threats, bellicose speeches only heighten the dangers we face in
the world. Without offering solutions and building international alliances we
only strengthen the hand of those who prey upon and play to a confused,
frightened and disorganized world.
Last week I received an e-mail from
a friend who is an Australian Vietnam veteran regarding the U.S. and Iran. He wrote, "Fear, I see it in
your debates on immigration, trade, Iran and now even your economy. Since
when has your great nation and people been afraid? You, like Aussies, have
always had a 'fair crack' at things, and a 'fair go for everyone.' Where is
America's clear voice of sanity? Why
are you so afraid to talk to Iran?"
America must not allow itself to become
paralyzed by a fear that erodes our self confidence and trust in our
Constitution and each other.
The world is living through one of
those rare and defining times in history. Our decisions today carry deep
implications that will shape the world's future...similar to the time of
Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy during the Cold War. The choices that
our leaders make over the next few years will frame the structure and set the
course for global security well into the new century. Just as was the case after
World War II, America must again lead from the
strength of common purpose and common interest. Working with allies and through
alliances-recognizing this is often frustrating and imperfect-but there is no
other option for world leadership. The challenge of Iran will not be successfully met without
China and the world community. The
answer to dealing with Iran will not be found in a military
operation. The U.S. is currently bogged down in two
wars. Our military is terribly over- burdened and we are doing great damage to
our force structure and readiness capabilities.
In the Middle East of the 21st
Century, Iran will be a key center of
gravity...and remain a significant regional power. The United States
cannot change that reality. America's strategic thinking and policies for the
Middle East must acknowledge the role of Iran today and
well into the future.
To acknowledge that reality in no
way confuses Iran's dangerous, destabilizing and
threatening behavior in the region. Our differences with Iran are real.
Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism
and continues to provide material support to Hezbollah and Hamas. The President
of Iran publicly threatens Israel's existence and is attempting
to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has not helped stabilize the current chaos
in Iraq and is responsible
for weapons and explosives being used against U.S. military forces in Iraq.
Yet, America's military might alone cannot
successfully address these challenges or achieve any level of sustainable
stability with Iran. The United States
must employ a comprehensive strategy that uses all of its tools of influence
within its foreign policy arsenal- political, diplomatic, economic, cultural,
In the last two years, the
United States has worked
closely with the permanent members of the UN Security Council,
Germany, Japan, and other key states as well as the UN
Secretary General and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) to pursue a diplomatic strategy regarding Iran's nuclear
program. The UN Security Council has adopted two binding resolutions calling on
Iran to fully disclose its nuclear
program and come into compliance with its international nuclear obligations.
Offers have been made to Iran by the
informal coalition known as the "P-5 + 1" (made up of the five permanent members
of the UN Security Council...China, France, Russia, the U.S., the UK...and Germany)
to address their nuclear concerns and find ways to build on common interests
Today, the IAEA will hold its latest
round of technical talks with Iran in Vienna
based on the agreement between the IAEA and Iran to fully
address all nuclear questions by December. The IAEA Board of Governors will be
briefed on this process later this month.
I have supported these efforts.
Maintaining a cohesive, concentrated and united international front remains an
effective and responsible element of a strategic policy toward
There are differences within our
international partnership on Iran. Prospects for further action in
the UN Security Council are in question, and we appear increasingly reliant on a
single-track effort to expand unilateral financial pressure on
Iran outside of the UN Security
Council with only a select few of our international partners.
Iran's actions, both on its
nuclear program and in Iraq, are unchanged. Yesterday, the
Iranian President said again that his country's nuclear program is
leaders appear increasingly confident in their position vis-à-vis the
States. And, concerns remain that the
United States' real objective
in Iran is regime change, not
a change in Iran's behavior.
Last month, I wrote President Bush
expressing my concerns about the path that we are now on regarding
Iran. I told him that unless there is
a strategic shift in our policies, I believe the United States
will find itself in a dangerous and increasingly isolated position in the coming
months. I do not see how the collective actions that we are now taking will
produce the results that we seek - on Iran's nuclear program, in Iraq, on the
Israel-Palestine issue, or on any issue. If this continues unchanged, countries
will grow uncertain over our motives and more unwilling to risk tougher measures
against Iran. Our ability to sustain a united
international front will weaken, leaving us with limited options.
Vice President Cheney said last
month that, "The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present
course, the international community is prepared to impose serious
consequences....We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon." But, what
confidence should we have in a strategy that, to date, has nothing to show for
it?...that has achieved no tangible changes to Iran's nuclear program and
actually has seen the Middle East become more dangerous and Iran more defiant?
Is the U.S. pursuing a policy that could
very well produce a self-fulfilling prophecy of the President's warning of World
The United States must employ wise statecraft to
redirect deepening tensions with Iran toward a higher ground of
resolution. We are at that crossroads. We must be clear that the
United States does not...does
not...seek regime change in Iran. There can be no ambiguity on
this point. We must be clear that our objections are to the actions and policies
of the Iranian government...not the Iranian people...and that improved U.S.-Iran
relations are a real possibility and clearly in the interests of the Iranian
people, the Middle East and the United States.
In the last year, the President has
authorized the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, to hold narrow and limited-
agenda bilateral talks with Iranian officials regarding Iraq and I have
supported this effort. Three rounds of talks have been held, with another round
However, now is the time for the
United States to actively
pursue an offer of direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with
Iran. We cannot afford to refuse to
consider this strategic choice any longer. We should make clear that everything
is on the table - our issues and Iran's....similar to the opportunity that we
squandered in 2003 for comprehensive talks with Iran. This
should include offering Iran a credible way back in from the fringes of the
international community, security guarantees if it is willing to give up nuclear
weapons ambitions, as well as other incentives. This will require the day-to-day
efforts and presence of a very senior administration official, higher ranking
than the American Ambassador to Iraq.
The offer should be made even as we
continue other elements of our strategy...working with our allies on multilateral
sanctions applying financial pressure...working in the UN Security Council on a
third sanctions resolution...and
working in the region to support
those Middle East countries who share our concerns with Iran. We should
seek to work in concert with Russian President Putin, who traveled to Tehran last month to visit the Supreme Leader of Iran,
Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and propose a new initiative to help resolve the
standoff over Iran's nuclear program. We should
seriously explore the proposal from the Arab Gulf States...announced by Saudi
Foreign Minister, Prince Saud... to establish a nuclear consortium to provide any
Middle East state with enriched nuclear fuel, including Iran. Initial Iranian
reactions could provide an opening for common interests.
Creative approaches like these,
rather than war speeches and talk of World War III, would strengthen our ability
across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies and
international institutions would be more confident to stand with us...not just
because of our power...but rather because they trusted our purpose, our words and
our actions. It could create a new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations, in part by
incentivizing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with
the West...because it is in their interests. We should be prepared that any
dialogue with Iran will take time and diplomatic
effort, focus and discipline.
Engagement should not be limited to
government-to-government contact. We must reach out at all levels. As I called
for earlier this year, part of that initiative could be offering to re-open a
consulate in Tehran...not formal diplomatic relations...but
a Consulate...to help encourage and facilitate people-to-people exchanges.
U.S.-Iranian parliamentarian exchanges would be beneficial to both sides. All
nations of Europe and most of our allies in the Middle East and Asia presently
have diplomatic relations with Iran. Like with Cuba, the United States
finds itself alone.
By refusing to engage
Iran in direct, unconditional and
comprehensive talks, we are perpetuating dangerous geo- political
unpredictabilities. Our refusal to recognize Iran's influence
does not decrease its influence, but rather increases it. Diplomacy is an
essential tool to ratchet down the pressure of conflict, increase the leverage
of strength and create dialogue and opportunities to identify common interests.
To be sure, hard choices face the
Iranian government as well. Does Tehran want to perpetuate tensions with "the
Great Satan" to distract the Iranian people from an increasingly dire and
stagnant economic situation and social contradictions and stresses that
ultimately point to economic collapse? Will the Iranian government decide that
conflict is preferable to a beginning of reconciliation with America and
opening to international acceptance? I do not know.
It may be that Iranian President
Ahmadinejad wants to take his country into conflict with the United States.
He may believe that baiting the United
States into striking Iran will allow him to consolidate clear control
over the Iranian government, including by undermining the influence of
Iran's Supreme Leader.
We must not play the Iranian
President's game by allowing ourselves to recklessly ricochet into a conflict
that could help unite Iran and the Muslim world behind the
very extremists that we should be isolating. Our strategy must be
smarter...wiser...and get above the Iranian President. We must demonstrate to the
rest of Iran's leaders, the
Iranian people, the Middle East and the world that it is an irresponsible
Iranian President who could take Iran into conflict...not the United States.
Our strategy must be one focused on
direct engagement and diplomacy...backed by the leverage of international
pressure, military options, isolation and containment...not unlike the strategies
that the United States pursued during the Cold War against the Soviet Union...
with Libya that has led to Libya's reintegration into the global community...and
as we are doing today through the "Six-Party" process to address the North Korea
The core tenets of George Kennan's
"The Long Telegram" and the strategy of containment remain relevant today. This
is how we should have handled Saddam Hussein.
Continued hostile relations between
the United States and
Iran will have the effect of
isolating the United
States as countries in the region move around
us to address their own national interests.
Inside Iran, there are
social strains and serious differences of opinion in a population of sixty-five
million where two- thirds are under the age of thirty. Iran's economy
is plagued by contradictions, inefficiencies and structural problems. And, there
are political divides in Tehran, most notably the fact that one of President
Ahmadinejad's key opponents, Ayatollah Rafsanjani, the former President of Iran,
is now the Chairman of the Assembly of Experts...the body charged with selecting
the next Supreme Leader in Iran, a very powerful position. Our strategy should
exploit these differences.
America is the great power - not
Iran. Because of that awesome
responsibility that comes with great power, we must be more mature in testing
the proposition that the United States and Iran can overcome decades of mutual
mistrust, suspicion and hostility.
The United States must be wise enough...and patient
enough...not to follow the same destructive path on Iran that we did on Iraq. We
blundered into Iraq because of flawed intelligence,
flawed assumptions, flawed judgments, and questionable intentions.
America and the Middle
East face enormous challenges...defining challenges that will shape
this region for decades to come. It is not simply Iran and Iraq that we must grapple with now.
The Israel-Palestine conflict, with its connections to Lebanon, Syria, Iran and beyond, is also approaching
a defining crossroads. The Arab world has renewed its Arab Peace Initiative.
Israeli President Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas are attempting to
re-establish a basis of trust to launch new peace talks. The U.S. proposed
peace conference could be the beginning of a new round of peace process
negotiations...moving this deadly problem to a new high ground of hope and action.
But deep questions remain. To
succeed, President Bush must become actively invested in the negotiations. In
the Middle East, Hamas cannot be simply ignored
like before. We must not pursue again a policy premised on an illusory hope that
Hamas will collapse through isolation. Nor can Syria be
excluded. Serious focus must be given to the "Israel-Syria" track, as part of
any peace process.
These are all components of putting
into perspective a Middle East 21st Century
strategic context for our policies, actions and words. These challenges that
confront us now will not simply wait for the next American president. Over the
last few years the United
States has lost considerable influence and trust in the
Middle East and the world...which has undermined
the expectations of American leadership in the eyes of world. In Michael Korda's
biography of Dwight Eisenhower, "Ike," he writes that Eisenhower warned, "the
States has no business transforming itself into
'an occupying power in a seething Arab world'...and that if we should ever do so,
'I'm sure we would regret it.'" I wonder what Ike would think of our current
predicament in the Middle East.
Lasting solutions in the Middle East lie beyond January 2009. One of the most
significant and potentially lasting contributions that this President could
leave the United States and
the world would be to begin to reverse the dangerous slide of
America's global standing and
influence. Twenty years ago, sustained, disciplined diplomacy under President
George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker laid the groundwork for
Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic breakthroughs under the Clinton Administration.
Today, the Administration must play for the "day after,"
help set up the next phase of peace
efforts, and not seek hurried, but unsustainable achievements. Over the next
year, this Administration should "tee-up" the next phase of the Middle East peace puzzle. Move as far as realistic,
achievable and responsible - but play for the long term...the lasting product...the
one with real adhesive to it. This will require addressing Iran.
As a great power,
America must understand not just its
interests and strengths...but its limitations. With little time, credibility and
international capital, the focus must be on what is possible and smart. As David
Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post this week in regard to Pakistan,
"history suggests that the more we meddle, the more likely we are to get things
None of us -in public office
today-the Administration, Congress, our Presidential candidates - are fulfilling
the requirements of leadership at a crossroads time in history...nor are we
absorbing the enormity of the time in which we are living. Neither Republican
nor Democratic candidates are speaking to the great challenges of our time...in
particular Iran...with depth, strategic thinking
and wise words. We are captive to the lowest common denominator of "who can talk
the toughest" and who is the "meanest cowboy on the block." That kind of
rhetoric...political as it may be...will only drive the world further away from
America and deepen a world
crisis...that we may not be able to recover from. At times, the debate is
astoundingly uninformed. Before it is over, the American people will be
subjected to nearly two years of a media circus surrounding our presidential
election where the candidates are reduced to verbal ping pong volleys on the
great issues of the day.
Rather than acting like a nation
riddled with the insecurities of a schoolyard bully, we ought to carry ourselves
with the confidence that should come from the dignity of our heritage...from the
experience of our history...and from the strength of our humanity...not from the
power of our military.
Since World War II, American
leadership has, for the most part, been a stabilizing force for the world, which
has been beneficial for our country and the world. It has been wise American
leadership that has helped navigate through crises in Berlin, the Suez Canal, Cuba and
elsewhere. It is American leadership that created the array of international
institutions, alliances, structures and treaties that brought peace and
prosperity to most of the world that had been devastated by two world wars.
The world faces challenges and
opportunities today that carry with it implications well beyond this moment in
time. American leadership is once again being called on at yet another
transformational time in history to help set a new course for a rudderless world
drifting in a sea of combustible dangers. In engaging Iran, the Middle
East and the world we must be wide in our scope, clear in our
purpose, measured in our words, strong in our actions, generous in our spirit,
humble in our attitude and wise in our course.
The U.S. and Iran find themselves at a historic
crossroads. What path we take will affect the future of mankind."
... Payvand News - 11/09/07 ... --