Around the corner

Without diplomacy military confrontation looms


Around the corner
by Trita Parsi

Iran’s warning that it will close the Straits of Hormuz if an oil embargo is imposed on it has sent oil prices soaring and raised fears that yet another war in the Middle East may be in the making. These fears are not unfounded, particularly if diplomacy continues to be treated as a slogan rather than as a serious policy option.

“Not even a drop of oil will flow through the Persian Gulf,” Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned, according to the state-controlled Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Washington quickly dismissed the threat as mere bluster. But energy markets react not just to the credibility of threats and warnings, but on the general level of tensions.

While Iran is unlikely to act on its warning in the short term - closing the Straits would after all also choke of Iran’s own ability export oil and potentially pit it against Russia and China - these threatening statements do fill one important function: They cause oil prices to rise due to the increased risk premium. Higher oil prices are good for Iran but bad for the U.S. and the European Union. The euro is already risking collapse and the Obama administration cannot afford higher gas prices (and the negative impact that will have on job creation) in an election year.

It is likely to get worse. As the Obama Administration - pushed by domestic political forces - continues to ratchet up pressure on Iran in the elusive hope that the government in Tehran will cry uncle and give up its nuclear program, the Iranians will respond to escalation with escalation.

If the name of the game is to harm the other side, then both countries can clearly play this game.

Initially, threats of closing the Straits of Hormuz were made by mid-ranking members of the Iranian parliament. Now Vice Presidents in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet make them. If the current trajectory remains, we will likely see more senior Iranian government figures make even more specific warnings with even greater frequency.

Along side the heightened rhetoric, we will likely see more Iranian military exercises in the Persian Gulf, potential provocations between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps navy and EU and U.S. navies by heightening the level of “testing the other side,” perhaps even “intentional accidents” at strategic targets throughout the region. These measures will at a minimum help push the risk premium of oil to even higher levels.

Even more aggressive measures will likely be pursued by Iran in the next phase of this standoff with the West.

Such is the logic of pressure politics - pressure begets pressure and along the way, both sides increasingly lose sight of their original endgames. As this conflict-dynamic takes over, the psychological cost of restraint rises, while further escalatory steps appear increasingly logical and justified. At some point - and we may already be there - the governments will no longer control the dynamics. Rather, the conflict dynamic will control the governments.

Though neither side may have intended to drive this towards open war, but rather to merely deter the other side or compel it to change its policies, pressure politics in the absence of real diplomacy has a logic of its own. This formula simply drives us towards confrontation, whether we intend it or not.

But all hope is not lost. Contrary to common perceptions, diplomacy has not been exhausted. In fact, it didn’t even fail - it was prematurely abandoned. As I describe in A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran, Barack Obama’s political maneuverability for diplomacy with Iran was limited - and whatever political space he had, it was quickly eaten up by pressure from Congress, Israel, Saudi Arabia and most importantly, by the actions of the Iranian government itself in the fraudulent 2009 elections.

By the time diplomacy could be tried in October 2009, Obama’s political maneuverability had become so limited that its entire Iran policy - in the words of a senior Obama administration official - had become “a gamble on a single roll of the dice.” It either had to work right away, or not at all. And diplomacy rarely works instantaneously.

The Iranians did not come to a "yes," as Obama had hoped, during the October talks. Only weeks later, the Obama administration activated the pressure track and abandoned diplomacy in all but name. Ironically, Brazil and Turkey managed through their diplomacy to get Iran to a "yes" only six months later. But by that time, Obama had committed himself to sanctions and the pressure track. Between a sanctions resolution at the United Nations and a diplomatic breakthrough based on the benchmarks of the original October deal, Obama rejected the diplomatic opening and opted for sanctions and pressure politics.

Diplomacy cannot work under such constrained circumstances. It needs time, patience, perseverance and a clear understanding that the cost of abandoning diplomacy is greater than the cost of sustaining it - because of the catastrophic repercussions of the military confrontation that will follow collapsed talks. While this might have escaped decision makers in Washington and Tehran earlier, there should be little doubt about its veracity today.

First published in

Trita Parsi is president of National Iranian American Council and author of the newly released book A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2012).


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more from Trita Parsi
iraj khan

"They say

by iraj khan on

Iran might get a nuclear weapon someday, and wouldn’t it be good if we have a pre-emptive attack on Iran right now to make sure they never got a weapon.

I would say no, I wouldn’t do that, mainly because right now there are no signs they are seeking to build a bomb.

And if Iran did build a nuclear bomb What are the odds of them using it? Probably zero. They just are not going to commit suicide. The Israelis have 300 of them.”

Ron Paul candidate for U.S. President

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Mehrdad Saudi

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


government provides a lot of benefits for its people. That is what I applaud. If people chose to do nothing or study useless "sciences" it is their choice. Do you want to government telling people what to study?

I never said it is "government by the people" so don't put words in my mouth. I said they share their wealth with their population. It is better than what IRI does which is to put it all in their own pockets. Or to fund Palestinians. Saudi do some of that put also take care of their people. Yes the money will run out but Saudi is investing much of it. They buy other businesses which will outlive the oil. Meaning it will go on generating income long after the oil is gone.

About America and Israel I never said don't criticize America. But I have a problem with people who use IC to bash Israel. Because it is the wrong place. There are plenty of blogs say Al Jezeera for discussing Israel. People who harp on it here often divert attention from IRI to other issues. In the past 33 years I seen much harm done to Iran and none of it by Israel. When people go off on Israel on IC it is like a sign going on saying "IRI supporter". 


Without diplomacy military

by Simorgh5555 on

Without diplomacy military confrontation looms......


and Trita Parsi will be out of his Job as Agent and Representative of the Islamic Republic. 


Trita at least change your religion!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 


VPK jaan: when in doubt, look it up….

by Bavafa on

Saudis Kingdom, if it was a regime by the people and for the people, would spend those oil $$$ for the education and advancement in their country, teach their people how to fish as oppose to give them a fish.  Their educated folks are mostly in the fields that does not contribute in the advancement of technology i.e. Islamic studies or philosophy.  They have essentially no other export beside oil sector and the only other source of income is for the Hajj.


Now, what are they going to do when the oil runs out and with a population that have grown accustom to hand out from government.

  You still applaud Saudi Arabia?


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 


P.S. I wish you would reconsider this line of thinking, that if any one criticize US, Israel, SA or any other adversary of IRI then they automatically condoning what IRI does

iraj khan

Trita Parsi

by iraj khan on

is such a great guy

I hope he become the Shah of Iran one day.


NIAC doesn't oppose all sanctions against IRI....

by AMIR1973 on

Just the meaningful ones (e.g. on oil, gas, Central Bank of Iran, etc). It does, however, support worthless and meaningless sanctions against some individuals within the IRI (e.g. travel bans on IRGC and Basijis who would not travel to any of the countries affected by such a ban anyway). Isn't it nice that the NIAC leader and his followers are capable of such intellectual honesty....

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Mehrdad & others

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Value of oil is because we do not have better sources. In 50 years very possibly there will be many other energy sources. It will happen either slowly via improving known methods or breakthrough.

Right now USA is the world leader on wind and that happened under Bush! Yes it is still a small percentage but goes up. As wind goes so do other sources go.

Then oil will get much less valuable. Hence is makes sense to sell it now. Invest the money in people and advancing. Saudi is doing the right thing. You say free $$$; to them it is sharing the wealth. Do you propose they don't share it? That Saudi people not benefit from their wealth? I don't get what you advocate. Is it better to pocket it all as IRI does? Or give it to Hizbollah and Palestinians. I applaud Saudi for sharing the wealth. Good for them and their people; yes it will buy them popularity.



"MKO supporters" are not cyber activists..

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

Instead, they set up camps right under the noses of VF and his fellow Iraqi shiat gangster Maleki, giving them both sleepless nights. The phucking cultists mean business :)

cyber activism is exclusive domain of TP joon and his west residing fan clubs. As for the rest of us, cyber space is the ideal venue to have a good laugh at the last desparate attempts of these cyber warriers in saving their paymasters.  

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."

Oon Yaroo

VPK , the other one just got flagged too!

by Oon Yaroo on

Rajeev Gupta will hopefully delete it!

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

I agree Shazdeh

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


As one who got into many arguments with Shazdeh I agree with him. The posting he put is no worse than Kebedin. Other than one got flagged and the other did not. But it is better if we stick to issues not get personal.


What makes sense for the US

by Abarmard on

The US policy makers should focus on what makes sense for the US. If the objective is to strengthen the US power in the region, then we should focus on what has worked and what hasn't.

In this case to answer and critic hirre, NIAC seeks policy based on diplomacy and respect rather than interference. Your examples, whether the US supported a regime or went against it is the violation of NIAC policy. Think of it similar to Prime Directive in the federation of starships.


Dear Hirre: Since you are the only one here…

by Bavafa on

who pays attention to issues and content rather focusing on personal attack, I don’t believe TP and NIAC is advocating of removing sanctions all together.  NIAC has repeated advocated and promoted the idea of sanctions that is against the regime leadership and those of violating human rights.  The type of sanction they oppose is when it is so broad to hurt ordinary Iranians and have little effect on the top tier leadership of IRI.


Lastly, I couldn’t agree more about the value and scarcity of oil in near future and the fact that any nation [un] lucky to have the oil under their ground, ought to try to invest it for their future.  This however does not seem to be the case for any of those regimes that is backed/installed by the West.  From Saudi Arabia to Kuwait, we see a repressive regime that is keeps its kingdom by free $$$ to its citizen in order to keep them shut.   Where will they be in 50 years or so. 

  I guess the point that I am trying to make here is that we, Iranians, need to take charge of our own affairs and bring a change that is by Iranians and for Iranians.  We need to realize these facts and know that the West is not necessarily a friend of Iranian people and any change they engineer, will be to their own benefit first.


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 


Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Khebedin: Only weak governments resort to force, 

Is that why IRI uses force against Iranian people


A very good article, like

by Khebedin on

A very good article, like always from Trita. I am glad we have people like him outside Iran. When you read the childish comments by bunch of idiots, you wounder if the Iranians living outside Iran are capable of thinking, Or are they all MKO supporters? who are governed by noting but Hate.

Only weak governments resort to force, the diplomacy read should never be closed. The aggressor in this case is not Iran, but US who wants to dictate her ways. Iran has every reason to resist US dictatorship and manupulations.


The question we should all ask

by hirre on

The question we should all ask instead of attacking TP is "what diplomacy would TP like to see?"...

If diplomacy is to lift sanctions it's really dangerous in the long term for the people (if you believe in human rights). You can see this in Libya, Egypt etc where the US removed (or didn't implement) large scale sanctions and therefore indirectly/directly supported dictators which led to the fact that they could rule for ~40 years while the people were suffering. At the same time this type of diplomacy (in the case of north africa) helped radical islamist voices to grow, but is it logical to think like TP, that is, if Iran is radical already, then moderate voices will grow (opposite of Egypt)?

I don't know, but what I certainly do know is that it will take a long long time with that strategy (at least half a decade) and the projected death tolls in the region will probably be much higher than a short term attack, because the iranian policy will not change, hence it will execute opposition members and continue to support islamists with agenda to kill jewish people or moderate arab voices in other countries...

So basically the main issue is what kind of diplomacy do TP want and how much time will that cost for the iranian people? As societies develop and resources becoming more scarce democracy needs to be projected faster in order to succed. In 50 years when oil is so scarce it cannot be used anymore it will severly impact an islamic country which will most likely be unprepared. In my opinion it's better to force an implosion through tough sanctions now in order to create a regime change, otherwise if regime change comes after 50 years there won't be any money/resources in the country left to build a sustainable democracy. Remember people need to eat before they need freedom and democracy by itself cannot help with that...If Iran is totally free from sanctions we will most likely see an egypt scenario after 50 years, but the problem is that it will come when Iran has no energy left for a rebuild process and the world will see us as a new afghanistan/sudan/somalia...Also don't forget that in 50 years countries will have so much domestic problems that there won't be time for any foreign diplomacy like we see today...


has St.Obama abandoned negotiations because of ??????

by bushtheliberator on

 #1 (trita Parsi ) he's " pushed by domestic political forces ". ( Obama as the hapless victim of the Usual Suspects )

or#2, he noticed that the IRI is harboring AQ, and finally had a neo-con conversion

Oon Yaroo

US foreign policy makers don't care what Trita says or writes!

by Oon Yaroo on

US will continue tightening the economical noose of sanctions around the necks of the IRR thugs!

US will blockade the IRR in land, sea, and air!

US will stop IRR from acquiring nukes!

US will take military actions against the IRR if it makes one wrong move!

Trita Parsi and NIAC are simply irrelevant!


Oil embargo now

by RostamZ on

There is no way that the Mullah's get out of this alive. If they try one of their old nonsense they will be in real trouble real fast. Hit them and hit them hard. Don't budge an inch.

iraj khan

Trita Parsi

by iraj khan on

Telling it as it is:

"But all hope is not lost. Contrary to common perceptions, diplomacy has not been exhausted. In fact, it didn’t even fail - it was prematurely abandoned.. Barack Obama’s political maneuverability for diplomacy with Iran was limited - and whatever political space he had, it was quickly eaten up by pressure from Congress, Israel, Saudi Arabia.."

Diplomacy is the only sane alternative for a sane world, the 99%. The other alternatives have already been tried in Afghanistan and Iraq and the devastating results are available for every one to see.


سر پل خر بگیری!



Fact Check!

When you read this blog by Trita, you think that we have another Cuban Missile Crisis on our hands. Two giants armed with nuclear weapons are heading towards a showdown and the future of humanity is at stake. And the only prudent course of action is to de-escalate, to back down and to sit down and solve our problems.


Oh yeah, and the price of the crude has gone through the roof and the western economies are hurting as the result.

Well, here is the chart of the price of oil till yesterday and you know what, it went up and down $1-2 on a $100 per barrel base. That is normal for the commodity market.


But what is the disappointing part to me is all those intelligent, dues-paying NIAC supporters who cannot bring themselves down and say, “Trita, Dr. Parsi, you are wrong in your analysis and facts!”

Where have we seen that pattern of behavior before?


Hint, there is a camp in Iraq where its residents behave the same way!

Shazde Asdola Mirza

IRI's petro $$$ well spent

by Shazde Asdola Mirza on

"No Sanctions" .... NIAC says:


Only cookies and milk for the naughty mullahs!


diplomacy and sane world…

by Bavafa on

It is a crazy world where bad guys often times attract more than nice guys.  It seems the general public, and some on IC, are of no exception to this abnormality where warmongering attracts more than a message of diplomacy and peace. 

One would hope that the “sane world” would be more interested in peace and diplomacy but it is an election fever and people want to see some really bad ass commander in chief that can bomb the hell out of those we deemed are against “us”.  Incidentally, the same seems to be going on in the other side of the world and IRI is deemed to show that they are even more hard-headed and more suicidal.


At the end of the day, let’s hope cooler heads prevail in place of a warmongering on both sides.


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 


Anonymous Observer

In the eyes of Trita Parsi, Et. Al.

by Anonymous Observer on

The IR is a mischievious child, and whatever it does should be tolerated because it just doesn't know any better.  Everyone should tolerate its actions and try to talk to it, regardless of how badly it behaves.  Perhaps the IR can be sent to a counselor or a therapist, but never, ever punished for its action because that will be counterproductive.  


Pathetic attempts at buying time for Islamist Republic Fascists

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

But it was tried before and it failed

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."


Courtship rituals

by Fred on

“Only weeks later, the Obama administration activated the pressure track and abandoned diplomacy in all but name.”


The lifetime president of the NIAC Lobby has become a full time, unabashed apologist for the Islamist Rapist Republic.

His line of argument is, regardless of what IRR does, US has to pursue courtship ritual, hoping one day the Islamist Rapists would respond with a yes.

IRR is getting nuke, no time for this  NIAC Lobby delay tactics.