Since President Obama’s timely New Year message to Iranians, there has been an avalanche of reports, analysis, punditry, letters and memos published in both printed and electronic media, discussing the roots and fallouts of his friendly gesture. At the two extremes are those who have found it as indicative of a “dramatic reversal in the U.S.policy toward Iran” (//www.760kfmb.com/Global/story.asp?S=10042321), and ones who saw it as merely cosmetic (//foreignpolicyjournal.com/2009/04/10/‘shift’-under-obama-is-change-in-tact-not-policy/#comment-19). And, in between are all shades of grey.
Iranian.com has not been immune from this (ir)rational “exuberance”. Quite a few commentaries, letters and memos have been posted and received multitude of comments - for or against. In general, these posts reflect both the writers’ worldview and aspirations, sometimes without any clear distinctions between the two.
Here, I intend to present a number of somewhat cool-headed observations and conclusions that, in my view, have not been properly discussed by other contributors to this website. My views are based on the following (not necessarily original) assumptions, each one of which the reader can question.
a. Despite the obvious conflict of interests between the U.S. and Israel vis-à-vis the Middle East, the two governments have generally acted harmoniously – in most cases, after extensive consultations, and in coordination, with each other.
b. Obama’s rapprochement with Iran has much less to do with him personally, than with the realization that the U.S. (and indirectly, Israel) can take advantage of Iran’s strategic position in the region to advance their own interests. And, the U.S. diplomatic engagement with the IRI entails much lower cost than any other feasible option currently available to either Israel or the U.S.
c. In Iran, the role of the Executive branch (headed by the president) in the national security and foreign policy decision-making is severely limited and amounts to mere window dressing. However, hard-liners can torpedo any deal if and when they are dissatisfied.
The rational behind these assumptions is apparent to the astute reader, and needs not be repeated here. I will suffice to draw a few obvious conclusions:
a. Despite the ongoing anti-Iran rhetoric, psyops, and propaganda war emanating from the U.S., the most important lesson learned in Iraq - by the U.S. - is that it is much cheaper (in both human and material cost), and more beneficial for the U.S. interests, to reach an agreement with IRI than to pursue regime change in Iran. The bottom line is that in return for recognizing IRI, the U.S. (1), will gain a convenient and stable access to the Central Asian (not to mention Iran’s own) oil and gas fields; and (2), will be able to use Iran’s influence in both Iraq and Afghanistan to strengthen and stabilize U.S.-installed governments in those countries.
b. Obama and Netanyahu are playing a ‘good cop / bad cop’ game aimed at softening IRI’s position. Neither of them will act before receiving a ‘green light’ from the other. It is highly implausible to assume that Obama can reach an agreement with Iran at the expense of Israel.
c. It is in the interest of the American/Israeli side to negotiate and reach an agreement with the hard-linest faction of the IRI (currently represented by Ahmadinejad), as opposed to waiting for a so-called reformist to win the next election. The reason is quite obvious – as we have witnessed before - any accord with a moderate government is bound to be rejected by the hardliners, while the opposite is not true. It may help remembering that the only meaningful and lasting agreement reached between Arabs and Israelis was signed by an ultra-hard-liner, Menachem Begin.
d. (my most seemingly haphazard conclusion): In the long run, a less-threatened IRI will be more amenable to reform; Removing sanctions helps Iran’s economic development, and consequently facilitates creation and empowerment of strong endogenous democratic forces.
* The title is borrowed from Mr. Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father.
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