Iran’s Rouhani Confounds Neocons

Official Washington’s still-influential neocons are still hoping they can sabotage progress toward a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement and thus keep open the option of war but the reasonable tone of Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani is making the neocons’ job trickier, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

The op ed from Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in the Washington Post should be read carefully on at least four levels.

The first is as one measure of the overall earnestness and seriousness with which the current leadership of Iran is approaching relations with the United States and with the rest of the outside world. Can you find an unreasonable phrase anywhere in the piece? I can’t.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, shown during the presidential campaign earlier this year.

The second is as a contrast with what we had become accustomed to hearing under the eight-year tenure of Rouhani’s predecessor. The contrast is so sharp one would never guess, if we did not already know it was so, that such pronouncements were coming from successive presidents of the same country, separated not by a coup or revolution but instead by a peaceful election.

Rouhani’s piece in the Post adds to the numerous other indications over the past several weeks that his election marks a profound change in attitude and approach in Tehran.

Third, Rouhani’s statements about what Iran wishes to do on issues of high concern to both it and the United States is consistent with what any dispassionate and well-reasoned analysis would arrive at as necessary to facilitate resolution of these issues. On the nuclear question, any resolution will have to recognize, and provide assurances to the West of being limited to, a “peaceful nuclear energy program.”

On the more pressing issue of the Syrian war, Rouhani’s statement of his government’s “readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition” should be acted upon, both because Iran already is a player, for better or for worse, in the Syrian situation and because working together in addressing the Syrian situation can have beneficial spillover effects in dealing with the nuclear question and other issues.

Fourth, the article contains sage advice about other aspects of the American approach to foreign policy, including on matters that do not directly involve Iran. As with Vladimir Putin’s recent missive, Americans ought not to need foreign presidents to point out truths about their own policies and approach toward the world, but they are truths nonetheless.

Among Rouhani’s observations that are too often forgotten, or never appreciated in the first place, in American discourse is that the world is for the most part not a zero-sum place and that dealing with other nations involves simultaneous competition and cooperation. He correctly observes that a unilateral approach that “glorifies brute force and breeds violence” does not solve shared problems such as terrorism and extremism.

He notes that too often “security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences.” A glaring example of this in the Middle East that does not directly involve Iran but is condoned by the United States comes readily to mind. Perhaps the most trenchant of Rouhani’s observations is:

“We and our international counterparts have spent a lot of time, perhaps too much time, discussing what we don’t want rather than what we do want. This is not unique to Iran’s international relations. In a climate where much of foreign policy is a direct function of domestic politics, focusing on what one doesn’t want is an easy way out of difficult conundrums for many world leaders. Expressing what one does want requires more courage.”

This aptly describes how some foreign policy issues, certainly including the Iranian nuclear issue, get addressed in the United States. One of the biggest deficiencies in American discourse about that issue is that it goes little beyond declarations of how badly we don’t want an Iranian bomb, with almost no sense of what we do want other than to hurt Iran and no vision for the future other than, by implication, perpetual hostility.

The new Iranian administration has opened a door to a better relationship, and one better for the United States, about as widely as such doors ever are opened. The United States would be foolish not to walk through it.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

13 comments for “Iran’s Rouhani Confounds Neocons

  1. gregorylkruse
    September 24, 2013 at 11:51

    I doubt that Israel would allow inspection of their nuclear and chemical weapons sites, or renounce terrorism for that matter.

  2. Ben Chifley
    September 23, 2013 at 00:16


  3. Ben Chifley
    September 23, 2013 at 00:10

    Religion as tool for to hide Wall St crime’s and protect the International Banking community!!!!!!!

  4. Ben Chifley
    September 23, 2013 at 00:10
  5. jaycee
    September 22, 2013 at 14:08

    Is it just me, or has the number of poorly sourced and clumsily argued comments directed against sober-minded analysis spiked somewhat following the announcement that the Israeli government would be paying students to surf the internet and flood discussions with pro-Hasbara propaganda?

    • Liza Lane
      September 23, 2013 at 08:33

      You are probably right – lots of rhetoric and hate-speech but no facts from the zionist camp – factual information and rational argument are their enemy, given their acts of ethnic cleansing and state terrorism.

  6. scott
    September 22, 2013 at 08:02

    Ali Hosseini Khamenei is the supreme leader of Iran. He is the person the US ultimately must deal with. Khamenei is pro shari law which is at total odds with the West. There is no negotiating. True Islam (the Koran, kill the infidel; Christians and Jews) is what the West is dealing with. Its a pipe dream to believe there will ever be peace with Iran unless of course the US cows and allows sharia law to be the law of the land and the world. Obama is an Islamic apologist. His policy for arming the Islamic rebels in Syria which are mostly Islamic extremists ( True Muslims) is proof that Obama is aiding and abetting radical Islam. Wake up America!!!!

  7. hamseda
    September 20, 2013 at 19:47

    It’s called “strategic disinformation”, Mr Pillar. Didn’t they teach you about that in the first semester at CIA? Haven’t you read Mr Rouhani’s remarks, from a few years ago, about the desirability of deceptive approaches to nuclear negotiations?

    • Masud Awan
      September 21, 2013 at 10:18

      “Haven’t you read Mr Rouhani’s remarks, from a few years ago, about the desirability of deceptive approaches to nuclear negotiations?”

      Could you kindly provide the reference?

  8. Revo
    September 20, 2013 at 17:28

    [It is about time we internalize the fact that Israel and Zionism are the ultimate Evil with no comparison.–Gilad Atzmon

  9. F. G. Sanford
    September 20, 2013 at 11:03

    You are absolutely, 100% correct. If Iran were to comply with all your demands, Middle East diplomacy would be simplified and the consensus of the International Community would starkly contrast with the current ambiguity and double-standards which now exist. Israel would be compelled to define its borders, as binding treaties under international law cannot be negotiated by countries who lack them. Israel might have to produce a constitution, which would force it to either codify or renounce its de facto status as a chronic human rights abuser in violation of multiple U.N. Resolutions. It would no longer be able to fall back on the myth that it is “the only democracy in the Middle East”. It too might have to ratify the NNPT and become fully transparent, allowing inspection of its clandestine nuclear weapons program. It too might have to comply with the Organization to Prohibit Chemical Weapons, and ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. An international team of inspectors should be permitted to thoroughly inspect its chemical and biological weapons program as well. This might serve to generate support among the American public to enforce the Symington Amendment, which prohibits aid to countries which secretly develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Perhaps this would lead to international resolve to end the illegal occupation of the Golan heights, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, all of which have received universal condemnation from the International Community. Torture and illegal detention of Palestinians, especially Palestinian children, might come to a welcome end. State sponsored terrorism conducted by Israel might be brought under control. Naked acts of aggression such as air strikes and bombing runs against sovereign nations would no longer be protected by the hypocrisy of “right to self-defense” simply because the United States uses its U.N. veto to shield Israeli war crimes. If your demands are met, Mr. Foxman, there truly is a chance for peace, harmony and human dignity. So, I completely agree with your fair and reasonable demands.

  10. Satish Chandra
    September 20, 2013 at 09:37

    (Sept 13 ‘13) India’s status as the sole superpower resides in the person of Satish Chandra. Russia still has thousands of nuclear warheads and, in principle, is a superpower but its rulers have been bribed and are controlled by the CIA. India’s rulers are also controlled by the CIA but, even if they were not, they have neither the knowledge nor intelligence nor courage nor character to make India a superpower. Only Satish Chandra does.

    In response to the above, today (Sep 13 ’13) “Arms deals worth Rs. 15,000 crore cleared” (Times of India) by defence minister and 3 service chiefs to buy arms from enemy United States instead of Research & Development in India and “India lures chip makers, says IBM and STMicro interested” (Reuters) by minister Kapil Sibal who sits at CIA-supplied terminals to commit crimes against me and India, instead of Research & Development in India. Destroying RAW, defence minister, 3 service chiefs, minister Sibal, etc. is part of making/keeping India the sole superpower.

    The CIA’s sponsorship of Modi is meant to bring India under direct American colonial rule starting with ‘joint operations’ with India to catch CIA-sponsored terrorists such as Dawood in Pakistan and later also in India as was done to catch CIA-RAW-sponsored Indian Mujahideen chief Yasin Bhatkal on the Nepal border ‘on a tip from the American Federal Bureau of Investigation’. Destroying all BJP, Congress Party and other politicians and bringing the media, at present instruments of the CIA in promoting filth like Modi and suppressing Satish Chandra who is unknown to the public, under control is also a part of making/keeping India the sole superpower.

    There should be no elections in India until the public is familiar with Satish Chandra and his life and work, after which the public will automatically lynch all politicians. But this will not happen because the media are still controlled by CIA-RAW and the meek acceptance for centuries of rule by the British who killed over ten million Indians in just the ten years after 1857 in just Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Bihar and the ferocious loyalty to the Anglo-Americans of Indians both in government (prime examples of which are the Intelligence Bureau and RAW — WhatYouShouldKnowAboutRAWDOTblogspotDOTcom — who go to unlimited lengths to sabotage and damage India in service of their Anglo-American masters) and outside shows that the Indian public can be mobilized for Hindu-Muslim riots by the Intelligence Bureau and RAW, that is all it is capable of. Since India’s status as the sole superpower is based on nuclear weapons emplaced in U.S. cities, the public is not needed to destroy Washington, New York and RAW and, later, for the coast-to-coast destruction of the enemy United States.

    (Sept 14 ‘13) I have said that the destruction of Washington and New York should preferably be carried out during working hours (9 am to 5 pm; it is now daylight saving time there so clocks are one hour ahead of standard time), Washington and New York time, on a working day in Washington and New York, though other days and times are also good. This still holds.

    Satish Chandra

  11. M Henri Day
    September 20, 2013 at 09:01

    Agree with Mr Pillar, save on one not unimportant point – even the Iranian administration under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attempted to engage their US counterparts in constructive talks ; it was the United States, not the Iranians, who were the aggressive part. Thus, the contrast between what Mr Rouhani has now published in the Washington Post and what Mr Ahmadinejad was saying is nowhere near as sharp as Mr Pillar seems to believe, even though it Mr Rouhani’s tone is perhaps somewhat less strident. What has change in the intervening eight years is, once again, not so much the stance of the Iranian government, but the fact that a newspaper like the Washington Post now is willing to offer its OpEd page to an Iranian president. Somewhere somebody seems at last to realise that the United States can no longer afford its toughest-bully-on-the-playground approach to foreign affairs, and that it is now necessary to try for win-win, rather than I-take-all-the-chips-and-you-get-nothing (save regime change) agreements. If, in fact, this is the case, then there might yet be a reasonable chance for humanity to make it through the present century, which otherwise promises to be the most parlous yet….


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