We Should Engage Iran — But With Extreme Caution
The US is taking advantage of the factional split that exists in Iran between the hardliners and “moderates” in the hopes of enticing the latter with economic inducements as the country opens up to foreign investment. The Obama administration hopes this will produce a change in the country as a whole, leading to more moderate policies in the region and the world. This is a good and promising path to follow, but it’s not the only reason the US has chosen to engage with Iran.
There is one other important reason: Iran is not seen as being an existential threat to the US. That is, Obama believes that Iran is not an aggressive threat, but that the Islamic republic is only a threat if provoked. The basis for such an opinion is dubious, as this judgement applies to the hardliners as well as the ‘moderates.’
President Rouhani is the leading moderate, and largely responsible for the opening to the world — but Rouhani is mainstream in Iranian terms; he is a loyalist and safe pair of hands who has held high-level posts for many years. This doesn’t disqualify him as someone who may have developed moderate views of his own, but it should at least make us pause and give us reason to think that all may not be what it appears to be.
The moderates seemingly have an interest in opening Iran up to the world, but the evidence to support this approach is insufficient. Iran still supports terror, and has not changed its bellicose attitude toward Israel. The problem is that Iran presents us with a puzzle: its contradictory declarations and policies obscure rather than reveal its underlying ideology. Hence, what it really wants is still a mystery. The kind of mystery that should create caution.
That doesn’t mean that continuing to cooperate with Iran is a bad idea. It is a good idea. It may reap rewards, but to get to this result, a balanced approach is needed. Iran may become a leading member of the international community, vastly improving the prospects for peace and stability in the region. But the reverse is also possible. We shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket.