Monday, August 01, 2005

Iran Iran

I am in the middle of an interesting book by Kenneth Pollack titled "The Persian Puzzle". Pollack worked for Clinton's NSC, concentrating on Iran, and is now employed by the Brookings Institute.

I have found the book so far to be extremely interesting, though quite long - some 435 pages before you get to all the end notes. It cronicles the history between Iran and the United States for better than the last 50 years.

The problem is that our two countries have a very long, mostly acrimonious, relationship. One of the biggest problems, to this day, is their perception that we don't give them the respect that they are due.

Realistically, at this point, we don't have a lot of options. We can't really invade the country. We are spread too thin already, and it would take a lot more resources to invade Iran than we had when evicting Iraq from Kuwait in Desert Storm. It would be brutal, and it would be bloody. There is a distinct possibility that, short of using WMD, we might lose.

I have taken the position that the best thing that we can do with Iran is to stabilize its neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan, as functioning democracies, and then let that push the Iranians into regime change.

But Pollack essentially dismisses this on a number of grounds. Most notably, the Iranians seem less willing to revolt today than they did in 1999, or, indeed, even earlier. The government has significantly loosened public morals, etc., while tightening restrictions on protesting and opposing the governement. The result seems to have been (as it was in China) effective in reducing the internal pressure for regime change.

The author talks of two different clocks running, one on internal change, and the second on nuclear weapons. As noted, our chance of affecting the former are reduced. As to the later, a military strike is always possible (he calls this "counter-proliferation"). But the Iranians have dispersed and hidden their nuclear facilities. And, this time, Israel is probably out as a surrogate, given the distances involved. Also, given the much lower level of perceived threat, combined with a significant amount of trade, our European "allies" are unlikely to condone this.

Pollack suggests a three prong approach:
- keeping the "Grand Bargain" option, which would be a deal settling all of our pending disputes, including removing all sanctions and returning seized assets.
- True Carrot and Stick, offering clear carrots for when Iran does the right thing, and clear penalties when they don't.
- Preparing for a new Containment Regime.

What is clear is that there is no easy answer.


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