Counterproductive Bluster Toward Iran

America’s “tough-guy-ism” plays well at home, with politicians competing to see whose bluster is the most belligerent, but works less well with the targeted countries whose leaders have their own imperatives of politics and pride. President Obama is risking failure in Iran nuclear talks if he ignores this reality, say Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett.

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

In an Op-ed last week, we held that simply expressing an interest in “talking” to Tehran would not be enough for the Obama administration to launch successful diplomacy with Iran.

The essential ingredient, we argued, is American “acceptance” of the Islamic Republic as “a legitimate political order representing legitimate national interests”, just as President Richard Nixon’s acceptance of the People’s Republic of China enabled the realignment of U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei waves to commanders and personnel of the Iranian Air Force during a meeting on Feb. 7, 2013. (Iranian government photo)

Subsequent events have demonstrated the accuracy of our analysis. On Feb. 2, Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama administration was open to direct, bilateral negotiations with Iran, if “the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader, is serious.” We warned then that:

“This formulation completely obscures how it is the Obama administration, not Ayatollah Khamenei, that has not been diplomatically serious. That’s because the Obama administration remains unwilling to detach itself from the neo-imperial strategy in the Middle East that it inherited from its predecessors.”

Four days later, on Feb. 6, new U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic, recently signed into law by President Obama, went into effect. And a day later, as should have been expected, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei responded, saying that “Iran will never accept to negotiate with he who threatens us with pressure. The offer of talks is meaningful when the other side shows goodwill.”

As we noted in our Op-ed, the Obama administration’s current strategy, “negotiating on terms that could not possibly interest Iran while escalating covert operations, cyber-attacks, and economic warfare against it”, will not work. Indeed, it puts the United States on a trajectory toward yet another, even more self-damaging war in the Middle East.

In our new book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, we lay out what serious U.S. diplomacy would look like, and why it is imperative for American interests that the United States pursue “Nixon-to-China”-like rapprochement with Tehran.

As he moves into his second term, President Obama is apparently no more inclined to formulate and implement a reality-based Iran policy than he was during his first term.

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and from 2001 to 2003  was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. They are authors of the new book, Going to Tehran. [To view the original of this piece, click here: ]

4 comments for “Counterproductive Bluster Toward Iran

  1. Vijay
    February 11, 2013 at 07:27

    This alleged piece of journalism would have done the editors of Soviet Pravada proud. Obama has offered to talk repeatedly to the mullahs of Iran including two personal private letters he wrote soon after he became president in ’09. He was rebuffed in public by Ayatollah Khamanei who did not bother to respond to the letters as protocol would have demanded. The Iranians are distinct from the Iranian regime whose leaders are made up of murderous thugs intent only on keeping the reins of power they seized after the revolution. Dealing with them on civilized terms is akin to striking a deal with the mafia in the hope that they will honor it. At least the later had a code of omerta within themselves unlike the clerics who regularly have internecine battles that leave a bloody trail including the current one between Ahmedinejad and Speaker Larijani

    • incontinent reader
      February 12, 2013 at 18:02

      You sound lsike Vijay from Brooklyn, not Vijay from Delhi. Unfortunately, Obama has done nothing of the sort. Up to now everything he has proposed, which has almost always been a non-starter, has been on a string. As for thugs, the IDF, Bibi and hi Likud Government have come up with a new mugging every day,

  2. rosemerry
    February 9, 2013 at 18:33

    John Kerry’s start does not bode well. Threats to Iran and continued cruel sanctions seem to be the only “options on the table”. the following quote makes me very pessimistic. As well, the hypocrisy of the USA is breathtaking.
    “So long as Iran continues to fail to address the concerns of the international community about its nuclear program, the U.S. will impose tighter sanctions […] against the Iranian regime,” David S. Cohen, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement. “We will also target those in Iran who are responsible for human right abuses, especially those who deny the Iranian people their basic freedoms of expression, assembly and speech.”

  3. F. G. Sanford
    February 9, 2013 at 17:37

    Of course, the author’s of this piece are absolutely right. But the conclusion missing is that reasonable, rational diplomacy has never been the goal of our posturing on this issue. There is a predetermined agenda, and that agenda includes establishing in the minds of American people that the Iranian government will not cooperate, leaving only those famous other “options on the table”. It would be naive to assume that the recent nomination hearings suggest anything but fealty to the interests of those who want nothing more than a war with Iran. America, watch what you wish for. In the words of COL. Lawrence Wilkerson, “If you liked Iraq, you’ll love Iran”.

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