Restoring the Balance?

This Iran strategy looks awfully familiar


Restoring the Balance?
by ramin ahmadi

Restoring the Balance
A Middle East Strategy for the Next President
By Richard N. Haass and Martin S. Indyk
(Brookings, $24.95)

A familiar specter is haunting foreign policy circles, hovering in particular over liberal experts and intellectuals, compelling them to re-examine their views on two former ideological adversaries, namely Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In an exceptional turn of events, the two ex-presidents are being unanimously hailed as a pair of foreign policy visionaries--Nixon for going to China, and Reagan for embracing Mikhail Gorbachev. The specter, of course, is Henry Kissinger.

Nowhere is this transformation better evident than in the debate about Iran. These days, the new conventional wisdom in Washington advocates the pursuit of a diplomatic solution with Tehran. The only existing disagreement is not over whether to negotiate but when to negotiate. Some believe that Washington must wait to reach out to Tehran after Iran's presidential elections in June. Others contend that waiting is unnecessary since the key figure to reach out to, the Supreme Leader, will remain the same.

In their book Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President, Richard N. Haass and Martin S. Indyk tackle the subject of Iran from multiple angles to arrive at a Kissingerian solution. Though the book covers a gamut of pressing issues in the region--from Iraq policy, to Arab-Israeli peace, to nuclear proliferation--Iran is the major common theme throughout much of their discussion. Its authors present as new an approach that is reminiscent of the old dual containment policy of carrots and sticks, except that the carrots are far from tangible and the sticks hardly defined. They acknowledge Iran as a tough challenge but, they argue, diplomacy can work because the regime does ultimately care about its immediate interests.

However, the question that goes unanswered is this: What reward could the U.S. possibly offer Tehran that could not only trump the allure of nuclear hubris but also substitute for the regime's anti-American fabric, of which its very identity is made?

Even if such a carrot were to magically sprout, the delivery of it to so fractured a regime would be a monumental feat. The Islamic facade of Iran's regime keeps us, in the West, so focused on our ideological divisions that we fail to see the commonalities in what plagues our politics. Much of Iran's economy and political infrastructure is in the firm grip of a handful of mafias. If there were to be a negotiation with Iran, the task of finding a reliable partner among the bosses would be daunting.

The fate of Iran's leaders in the past 30 years best demonstrates the impermanence of power among them. Ever since 1979, the vast majority of the country's leading figures have either fallen from grace--like former President Abolhassan Banisadre who defected to France, or Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh who was executed, or Ambassador Mohammad Hossein Moussavian who was imprisoned--or they have lost momentum and popularity, like former President Mohammed Khatami. Iran's leadership landscape is quicksand.

But let us suppose that the miracle carrot was on hand and a single leader existed in Iran. Still, a major shift would first have to occur for the carrot-and-stick approach to succeed. At the heart of the proposal by doctors Haass and Indyk is a recommendation for political surgery to incise a "realistic and legitimate Iran" from its conjoined evil twin, "revolutionary Iran," which is driven by the zeal and impulses that defined Ayatollah Khomeini's rule.

It is here, in the strategy of separating a revolutionary state from its revolutionary moment, that a familiar vision and voice from the past reverberates. This view gives no heed to the ideals that spark revolutions in the first place. It cloaks its disregard for the subject of revolution in "pragmatism." Its foremost architect, Henry Kissinger, remains the perennial muse of the imagination of American foreign policymakers.

Nearly four decades ago, Kissinger introduced his policy to deal with communism, which in essence moved the U.S. to recognize the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the 1949 Chinese revolution. His doctrine accorded legitimacy to an established revolutionary state in the hopes of isolating it from the revolutionary movements and moderating its international behavior.

The revolutionary governments were served judicious helpings of carrots and sticks--the heartiest carrot being the accord of legitimacy itself, and the lesser being an array of trade and economic deals. The stick was America's massive military superiority, and her network of "regional gendarmes," such as Iran and South Vietnam at the time, who were to maintain U.S. influence in strategic areas of the world without overt presence. Kissinger argued that, after Vietnam, military intervention was not a viable policy for the United States.

Today, Kissinger claims that the demise of America's totalitarian rivals did not come as a result of the triumph of American democratic ideals. Rather, it came through the triumph of his policy toward the Soviets, which led to confrontational Reaganite tactics and the subsequent end of the Cold War. This point especially matters to Haass and Indyk in making their Iran proposal. That the authors agree that it was, indeed, the Kissinger Doctrine that broke the Bolsheviks' backs and pushed China toward more openness can be deduced from the model they propose for Iran.

However, there is a glaring distinction not simply between Iran and the former Soviet Union, but also between the Henry Kissinger of the late 1960s and his American counterparts in the new century. Whether it was the kidnapping and assassination of the Chilean General Rene Schneider, or supervision of extensive bombing raids into Laos and Cambodia, Kissinger's political calculus could never be called humanitarian. Yet he was always deeply engaged with the details of the internal politics of the country of his focus.

Haass and Indyk, on the other hand, while maintaining the same pragmatist disregard for the plight of Iranians, admit to a broad and general lack of understanding of critical details related to Iran: "Previous U.S. attempts to play on internal political dynamics in Iran have all proved counterproductive; the United States simply lacks the knowledge and the guile to do so effectively." Beneath all carefully crafted proposals of carrots and sticks for Iran, there is a clear message for the region, that once again American interests, not American ideals, will drive the U.S. foreign policy.

And there lies the glaring omission. The revolutionary movement that Indyk and Haass propose we excise is only a hollow posture when it comes to Iran's regime. But for the nation--for the young women who have spurred the grassroots One-Million-Signature campaign for equal rights, for the bus drivers who want their own union, for the scores of journalists and bloggers who languish in prisons, that movement is everything.

What if the U.S. were to turn its back on the plight of Iran's nation to embrace its government? If so, America is not about to blaze a new path. Rather, once again, as in the time of the Shah, the U.S. will align itself with those whom the nation regard as oppressors. It was precisely such an alliance that sparked the anti-imperialist fury among ordinary Iranians, which Ayatollah Khomeini exploited. That fury became the bonfire we now call the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Ramin Ahmadi is the author of several books of criticism in Persian and the co-founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. First published in


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more from ramin ahmadi
programmer craig

What a noid

by programmer craig on

You are a completely useless individual. You aren't even interesting enough to argue with. And playing spelling/grammar police? Could you possibly be more obnoxious?


Programmer: stop before you embarrass yourself even more

by AnonymousAnonymous (not verified) on

On what basis do you state that "I despise teh (sic) United States"?

Remember, it's spelled e-v-i-d-e-n-c-e. Look into it...

programmer craig

Spelling nazi?

by programmer craig on


Why does it not surprise me a supporter of the IRI (as bad as they are, right!?) is a spelling nazi? 

I wish you hadn't told me you were a naturalized US citizen. How'd you manage to slip through the cracks? And didn't it bother you at all to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States, when you despise teh United States? I have nothing more to say to you. Your mentality and your bias are obvious.



To Programmer Craig

by AnonymousAnonymous (not verified) on

For an Uh-mur-kin, you certainly are a bad speller. The Programmer in his own words:

1) North "Kora"
2) puppet "governmenets"
3) "you through me for a total loop" (see if you can spot the mistake)
4) Iranian influnce

How does it feel that a guy who wasn't even born in the U.S. speaks and writes English more proficiently than you?

Now on to your gibberish: in what sense is North Korea on my side? Where did you get that? Where's your evidence for claiming that I support North Korea? As far as Iran paying for my "last vacation", where is your evidence that I've received a single dime from the Iranian regime? Do you know how to spell e-v-i-d-e-n-c-e?

As for Saudi Arabia being the ONE Arab country where people have it worse than Iranians: almost all the Arab countries except for the tiny, oil-rich Gulf states are poorer than Iran (based on GDP per capita). Iran has a thousand-and-one problems, and this is no endorsement of the Iranian regime. It's simply a fact. I have some idea what conditions in Iran are like, because I've actually traveled there a couple times. Things are difficult there for many people, especially the poor. I give about a $1000 of my own money every year to several poor families to help them out (I know it's not much, but it's better than nothing). Have you even been to Iran?


Vavaki: Please keep quoting from Saudi prince's papers

by AnonymousAnonymous (not verified) on

Dear Clown,

I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1996. I didn't say a word about "Zionist", so why did you even bring it up? Perhaps you imagined that I said it...

programmer craig

AA one more thing

by programmer craig on

Why is it that the only Arab country you want to talk about is the ONE Arab country where people have it even worse than Iranians? Is that just a coincidence? lol.

programmer craig

How many divisions does the

by programmer craig on

How many divisions does the Iranian military have in Arab countries? How many Iranian military bases are in Arab countries?

It's so strange how that criteria was not required when you listed all of the countries that the US controls via puppet governmenets! Really, you through me for a total loop right there! It almost seems like you are biased in favor of the IRI. As "bad as it is" according to your statements here. Can you explain for us how bad that is? I mean, is the only problem that they didn't pay for your last vacation, or is it something even worse than that?

If you think Arabs aren't aware of Iranian influnce via sponsored militias in Lebanon and Iraq, and in Syria via political and financial support, and in Gaza via financial support and weapons shipments, you are mistaken. 

programmer craig

AA -

by programmer craig on

What Uncle Sam would bring to Iran would be 10 times worse as the IRI
(as bad as it is).

Really? lol. Something tells me you don't think "as bad as it is" is very bad at all.

Look at Uncle Sam's favorite puppet dictators
(Suharto, Mobutu, etc--to name only two of many).

Those are our favorite puppet dictators? I'm surprised you didn't name Kim lil Dong in North Kora as well. How could you ahve missed him? Is it only because he's on your side? Because it does seem to me that your only criteria for listing somebody as a US-supported puppet is that they are "bad" and that they don't support the Islamic Republic.


Kurush & Vavaki

by Roshanbeen (not verified) on

Superior penmanship. Enjoyed reading you comments.

AShargh alwsat???

Consider the source, these loosers who can not stand up to their main adveseries in the region are worrying about Iran?. Their lands are being taken away every single day their people are being harrassed, humeliated and murdered but they forget all that and worry about the name of Persian Gulf, and 3 islands, what a bunch of loosers.


To NAJA man: yeah and I am Prince Charles

by Vavki (not verified) on

You can be anything you want in cyberspace even an American with US citizenship.

It is hopeless to reason with you. It's like discussing things with Khameneii 'cuz you reject the whole thing from bottoms up in spite of all the avaible information right here on the Internet! Oh I forgeot they are merely Zionist misinformation and propaganda! lol!

Go read Naom Chomsky's dribbles and be happy.

peace out


Vavaki's imaginary world

by AnonymousAnonymous (not verified) on

What is your evidence that Iran is currently trying to replace the U.S. puppet dictatorships with "governments servile to your Velayat-e-Faghih dictatorship"? Did you read that in Ash Sharq al Awsat or in statements made by officials of the U.S. puppet dictatorships? How many divisions does the Iranian military have in Arab countries? How many Iranian military bases are in Arab countries? When was the last time Iranian planes or drones bombed another country? Now please ask the same questions about the U.S. government.

And in what sense is it "my Velayat-e-Faghih dictatorship". I am a U.S. citizen. My government is the U.S. government, which has killed an exponentially greater number of civilians in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan (just to name a few places) than Khomeini, Khamenei, and Khalkhali combined.

As far as your nonsensical statement: "The bottomline is that you guys cannot comprehend this fact that you will not and cannot replace the Soviet Union." What are you talking about? Are you saying I'm a commie? Do you live in an imaginary world?


To AnonymousAnonymous NAJA

by Vavaki (not verified) on

"Almost all of the people ruled by those Arab puppet dictatorships (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Bahrain, UAE, etc) hate their own governments for being servants of the U.S. They, more than anyone else, want the U.S. government to stop interfering in the Mideast. "

Sugar pie, you still do not get the point or pretend not to!

They might very well hate their governments for being servants of the U.S. but tat the end of the day they do not want their governments to be replaced by governments servile to your Velayat-e-Faghih dictatorship either. They do not want your dictatorship to interfere into Arab affairs to promote its own self-serving agenda and that is what your dictatorship has done in the last 30 years. haven't you got it by now?

The bottomline is that you guys cannot comprehend this fact that you will not and cannot replace the Soviet Union.


Reply to Vavaki

by AnonymousAnonymous (not verified) on

You want to compare Saudi Arabia to Iran? In Saudi Arabia, women can't even drive a car. In Iran, over 60% of current college students are women (of course, this does NOT at all justify the discrimination that Iranian women face). I absolutely love the fact that you link to an article from Ash Sharq al Awsat. Do you even know that that lowsy paper is owned by Prince Salman bin Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd al-Rahman, one of the most reactionary and corrupt of Saudi princes? These are the people whose views you support?

What Uncle Sam would bring to Iran would be 10 times worse as the IRI (as bad as it is). Look at Uncle Sam's favorite puppet dictators (Suharto, Mobutu, etc--to name only two of many). The regimes in Indonesia, Zaire, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc all killed a lot more civilians than the IRI. Almost all of the people ruled by those Arab puppet dictatorships (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Bahrain, UAE, etc) hate their own governments for being servants of the U.S. They, more than anyone else, want the U.S. government to stop interfering in the Mideast.


To AnonymousAnonymous NAJA: dictatorship is dictatorship

by Vavaki (not verified) on

Sugar pie, it's not only Egypt and Saudi Arabia , it is Morocco, Bahrain, UAE and the list goes on and on. Your leaders are challenging the entire Arab Middle East ...

I never said they are not dictatorships but no dictatorship can hold a candle to your beloved dictatorship in Iran which wants to clone itself in all Arab countries, replace their dictatorships with far worse ones (as we did in Iran) and kick the U.S. out.



To Vavaki

by AnonymousAnonymous (not verified) on

How about installing U.S. puppet dictatorships of the Saudi variety throughout the Middle East. Isn't funny that the most servile and obedient of U.S. puppet dictatorships in the Arab world, the Saudi regime, is also the most fanatical and fundamentalist? (It is also one of the leaders of the Washington-inspired gang of Arab and Zionist regimes that is currently opposing Iran). Come to think of it, maybe it's not that funny.


To NAJA man

by Vavaki (not verified) on

You said "Iran’s goal, should be no less than the total eviction of the Western colonialists in the ME."

How about replacing the governments of all the Middle Eastern countries with an Iranian style Islamic Republic, all under the command of your undisputable leader of the muslim world, Imam Khameneii & Co.?

will you be satisfied then?

programmer craig

The problem...

by programmer craig on

Democrats have always had with trying to reach out to their adversaries, is that they lack "street cred". It inevitably backfires on them because they just get taken for a ride because nobody takes them seriously. Big Stick diplomacy works, but it only works if opponents think you may actually whip the stick out if you run out of patience. I guess analysts are too busy examining strategy to think about the possibilty taht just because something works one time for one leader doesn't mean it will work any time, for any leader.


on fallacies & platitudes!

by Kurush (not verified) on

The author of this essay establishes a premise towards the end without bothering to provide any proof whatsoever. This betrays a biased & partial observer with little respect for facts and realities in Iran. Popular discontent is universal, and, often quite legitimate, and can be found in any country. Yet, to elevate this condition to one of the oppressed vs. the oppressor existing in Iran is at best fallacious & at worst cynical. The IRI is not run by bunch of dimwits as the article suggests. The theocracy comprises a wide gamut of viewpoints and personalities, some of whom are quite sagacious & shrewd. The theocracy has deep popularity in the countryside and smaller towns and cities. Over the years, despite Western sanctions & subversions, the theocrats in Iran have developed quite a range of supporters and adherents & followers. Moreover, the theocrats in Iran have shrewdly exploited the sanctions, along with tight control of hard currency reserves, to invest in Iran & Iranians. It might be an open secret that the theocrats have wisely created some strata in Iran since the revolution who owe their wealth to the theocrats. Furthermore, these strata are widespread and do not constitute a minority elite as was the case with the deposed Shah. To claim that there is popular movement in Iran against the Mullahs is to subscribe to the 'losangelesi' hype. The dissent in Iran is for all practical purposes marginalized and confined to certain fringe groups who, however, through their vociferous protest, and thanks in no small measure to the Western propaganda organs, 'appear' to stand for the rest of the population. More fundamentally, and this is a point little understood or observed, the population itself has astute recognition that, given the Western subversions & disregard for the sovereignty of Iran, a point hammered home again and again as the Iranians witness the fate of the Iraqis & Afghanis under the jackboots of the Western/NATO thugs, the Iranians must respect their government and coalesce to defend the nation against these thugs who are often at trigger-point tripwire. here, the will of the nation asserts itself in subtle but understood ways: it has given pause to the would-be thug-aggressors in the West and their poodle, the Zionist state.
Another fallacy is to place Kissinger at the center of events in a god-like manner. The military cooperation of the Soviets and the Chinese during the Cold War forced the West & the US to act cautiously against their quicksand colonial instincts. It would be a mistake to endow any wisdom to Kissinger who preferred force to true diplomacy. Whenever, he could get away with it, Kissinger opted for war and coups, as in Chile & Vietnam. Kissinger for America is what Disraeli was for Victorian Britain, sworn to uphold and enlarge the imperial ambitions of their ruling Anglo-Saxon masters. Kissinger has proved quite obedient to Rockefellers and those in the ruling manifest-destiny imperial circles in the US, as Disraeli , a Jew also, was to Queen Victoria and forward-policy imperialist circles in the British ruling class. Kissinger, furthermore, urged Bush early on to scrap nuclear limitations treaties with the Russian in hot pursuit of America’s Holy Grail, the star war space based weapon systems., a highly dangerous and unwise move which has guaranteed arms race for decades to come.
The Iranian leadership is quite aware of one fundamental fact: no amount of diplomacy and Western guarantees can blind one to the fact that the continued occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan & the Persian Gulf by the Western thugs abrogates all treaties they sign with the West & the US,- no sooner than the ink dries on those treaties. In short, Iran’s own sovereignty is in peril if the US/NATO establish permanent bases in those two occupied counties whose populations have suffered infinite pain under the Western jackboots. Conversely, the West has ‘accomplished its mission’, if it can get Iran to go along with the permanent occupations of these unfortunate countries. Iran’s goal, should be no less than the total eviction of the Western colonialists in the ME. In that, we Iranians, must not compromise. If this means, in order to guarantee sovereignty for ourselves and our Iraqi & Afghani sisters & brothers, we have to stockpile nuclear warheads, then so be it. A return to an era when the western colonizers ruled the ME is unthinkable


It will FAIL big time

by My two cents (not verified) on

Iran is neither China nor the old Soviet Union, simply because Iran's leaders starting with Khameneii or Rafsanjani down to all the small and big clerics in Qum running the show are not China's or Soviet Union's leaders and are absolutly void of any wisdom and/or unity, besides there so many power centers and factions involved .... even Khameneii is not in reality the ultimate decision maker and his decisions have to please so many different factions, all competing with one another, that's why he plays a different tune every day.

I firmly believe that the big powerful mullahs are not really looking for any kinda rapprochement and/or normalization of ties with the U.S., all they want is to get some concessions from the U.S., nothing more.


Need before all else!

by Landanneshin (not verified) on

Notwithstanding the author's chosen goal in his professional life, and with respect to his anxieties for the "plight of Iranians", it is high time that Iranians of all persuasions and place of abode realise two facts of life- no matter how bitter or sweet they might be!

1- If the American political establishment has come to the conclusion that in dealing with Iran, diplomacy is the only realistic choice on the table, that is not because Iran, or its leaders have changed, its because the US has no other viable alternative to pick, and Tehran is well aware of that.

The fact of the matter is that the US would still prefer to see the back of the Islamic Republic, but have realised that they can't do it without facing unimaginable and unpredictable consequences, and as importantly, they now need Iran's help to get them out of the mess G.W.Bush & Co. have made worldwide for America which could take decades to remedy.

But don't make a mistake,even if tomorrow the two countries established diplomatic relations and the US lifted all its anti-Iran restrictions, the two countries will continue to be extremely suspicious of each other.

2- Please, reconsider whatever belief you might have in the analytical books written by Western former officials, especially those who have turned to academia.

If they were so wise and 'know it all' then why on earth didn't they express it when they were enjoying being driven in official cars?

One of the most clever and sophisticated ploys that the Wesern political systems have developed is to use the 'analytical' works of former officials to give new shape to public opinion and prepare their people for change.

You will never hear a western leader saying to his/her people, for example, sorry guys we were wrong to call Iran an evil force and a threat to world peace! why? Beacause, how then would they explain or justify their change of heart after 30 years of having called Iran just that?

Of course,leaders in the less free societies don't even bother about these delicate matters, they just change course!

And again,please don't say but the West's free media will expose the hypocricy of their leaders! apart from just a few exceptions,history has shown that when it comes to preserving the so called 'national security or interest', the media will keep quiet. But I must credit them for being very good at bringing down their leaders on domestic issues.

Finally, and sadly, the last determining factor in official international relations is people's plight.


What do you expect the U.S. To do?

by I wonder (not verified) on

Well when even two Iranians Republicans, two Iranian Monarchists, two Iranian Constitutionalists or whatever cannot unite and join hands with each other (let alone with others) and agree on a common goal, what do you expect the U.S. to do?!

Americans do not see any viable alternative/s to that crummy regime among the so called "opposition" inside or outside Iran after 30 years. It's simply not there and might never be!

Americans are just looking after their own interests and that's quite normal. They are stuck deep in shit of Iraq and Afghanistan and trying to dig a way out, therefore they are desperate to resort to anything and/or anybody for that matter.

One thing is for sure that mullahs will not repeat the Shah's mistakes and will not be fooled or toppled (if ever) that easily. Unlike Americans, they learned their lessons very well.