National Security Network

Time for a New Approch Toward Iran

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Report 23 September 2008

Iran Iran bush iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad McCain Nuclear Obama United Nations


Today Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will speak before the U.N. General Assembly.  Sadly, we know what to expect.  For years Iran’s leader has brandished hate-filled language that fully deserves the world’s condemnation.  But President Bush and his allies, like John McCain, have used this as an excuse to continue a failed approach based on hollow saber rattling that has done nothing to constrain Iran’s nuclear development and its growing regional influence. Today Iran is stronger than ever. Alternatively, progressives, such as Senator Barack Obama, have long advocated for using all elements of national power to address the Iranian threat, including aggressive diplomacy.  Ambassador Jim Dobbins laid out the progressive argument clearly: “I have a solution for dealing with Iran, and that is: deal with Iran.”  This is a strategy supported by five former Secretaries of State, including conservatives Henry Kissinger, James Baker and Colin Powell. Despite this expert consensus, John McCain has promised to continue the same confrontational approach which even the Bush administration has moved modestly away from.  He would ratchet up rhetoric, while abandoning diplomacy and push economic sanctions that he knows have no chance of receiving international support.  This approach has failed before with North Korea and makes the likelihood of a nuclear Iran all the more certain. The country needs a new pragmatic approach, not more of the same. 
For years, the Bush administration has substituted bellicose rhetoric for strategy, allowing Iran to draw closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Nearly 7 years ago, the Bush administration made the decision to include Iran in the “Axis of Evil.”  Now “Due to the Bush Administration's choices and actions, Iran is more of a threat today than it was seven years ago.”  Iran has expanded its nuclear program under the nose of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and “its influence inside Iraq and across the Middle East, and its support for Hezbollah and Hamas have all grown on this Administration's watch. In response, the Administration has pursued an unrealistic policy of regime change. Now it is pursuing containment, with little or no success.” According to David Wurmser, “once considered one of the key neo-conservative voices in the administration” the Bush administration approach is now simply to hope for a new Iranian leader to emerge. Wurmser “said that currently the hope in the administration was not to replace the rule of the ayatollahs, but rather that a ‘Gorbachev’ might emerge in Iran who - like Mikhail Gorbachev did in the Soviet Union - would substantially change the regime's polices from within.” [President George W. Bush, 1/29/02. NSN Policy Report on Iran. Jerusalem Post, 9/17/08]

Opinion has coalesced around the progressive plan to pursue aggressive and comprehensive diplomatic negotiations with Iran.  A broad, bipartisan consensus has formed around the progressive strategy for engaging Iran articulated by Senator Obama.  Last week, Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher all agreed we need direct talks with Iran without pre-conditions.  Kissinger, former Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, not only indicated that he “was in favor of negotiating with Iran,” but said that such negotiations should occur “without conditions,” and should begin at a high level,” remarks which echoed and expanded on the recommendations made by the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group in 2006.  Even the Bush administration is moving toward Obama’s position.  “[I]n July, Bush sent a high-level U.S. emissary to attend nuclear talks with Iran,” and in June, Senior administration officials were “mulling a proposal to open an interest section in Tehran, similar to the one the United States has operated in Havana since 1977.” [ Iraq Study Group, 12/06. AP, 9/15/08.  ABC News, 9/15/08.  Reuters, 9/16/08. Washington Post, 9/15/08. Washington Post, 6/23/08]

John McCain will expand the failed policies of George W. Bush that have emboldened the Iranian government without halting their nuclear program.  From his reckless “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” remark to his characterization of tough negotiations as appeasement, Senator McCain has consistently followed the approach of the Bush administration that, like with North Korea,  has utterly failed to hinder Iran’s nuclear development.  He has consistently derided Barack Obama as naïve for his willingness to have tough direct diplomacy with Iran.  McCain has instead called for more sanctions and the continuation of a policy that has not worked for the past five years while Iran has developed 4,000 centrifuges.  He even put out an advertisement two weeks ago reaffirming this position and deriding Obama’s position on Iran. John McCain has warned “There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option, that is, a nuclear-armed Iran.” Yet his approach does nothing to arrest Iran’s nuclear development and only makes the prospect of war more likely. [John McCain, 4/18/07. John McCain, 5/15/08. John McCain conference call, 5/15/08. John McCain, 1/15/06]

Quick Hits

As President Bush addresses the United Nations today for the final time in his presidency, the world evaluates his controversial legacy at the UN.

Oil prices jumped $25 yesterday, its greatest single-day jump, as the dollar posted its biggest one-day loss since January 2001. The stock market again faced steep losses in the face of uncertainty over the proposed bailout. Meanwhile, Americans spent less on healthcare and prescription drugs, one of the first drops in over a decade.

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say that they expect the Taliban insurgency to mount a winter offensive while the Bush administration reviews its Afghanistan policies as Pakistan and Afghanistan discuss developing a joint force to combat militants in the border region.

President Bush and Pakistani President Asif Zardari will meet today in New York as the Pakistani army today killed 60 militants in the frontier areas.

The Sunni Awakening Councils and their leaders continue to face turmoil and increasing persecution during the transfer of control to the Iraqi government as friction and infighting rises among Council members.

Despite increased tension, the U.S. and Russia are cooperating on some key issues.

Immigration to the United States has slowed dramatically over the past year
, most likely due to decline in the U.S. economy and job prospects.

Ten South African cabinet ministers have resigned following the fall of Thabo Mbeki, as questions arise over the consequences for the peace process in Zimbabwe.

Georgia claims to have shot down a Russian drone near South Ossetia.

George F. Will writes today that “McCain has Lost his Head” hitting McCain’s temperament and reckless behavior.

The VA will increase benefits for mild brain trauma
, “acknowledging for the first time that veterans suffering from this less severe version of the Iraq war's signature wound will struggle to make a living.”