The troop “surge” in Iraq is also a signal to Iran—but stopping Tehran’s nukes for good will require a different kind of leverage.
In essence, the policy issues come down to a debate over leverage—how much and what type of leverage is required for Iran to dismantle and bar the resumption of any nuclear weapons programs. The administration would argue that it currently lacks leverage, and so must continue to apply pressure and use indirect dialogue—that the Iranians are stubborn, only understand the use of force, can’t be given the impression that they are winning, and so forth. The administration seems to consider “sticks” the only form of leverage. But the truth is that the Iranians have survived almost thirty years of isolation, hostility, and war. The U.S. intervention in Iraq probably altered permanently the sectarian balance of power in the region in Iran’s favor. And whether our allies in the region appreciate Iran or not, its population of nearly 70 million people, enormous wealth of resources, and strong heritage make it a significant power. A policy of sticks alone is unlikely to persuade Iran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The administration’s dogged pursuit of leverage by sticks, unfortunately, is too much a holdover of the tough-guy, new-sheriff attitude that landed us in the Iraq mess. But another kind of leverage—carrots—could succeed. The United States is the largest economic power in the world, and has control, or very near controlling influence, over almost every international institution of significance to the Iranians. I believe we can gain far more from Iran by dispensing some carrots—and can also apply the sticks more effectively—if we are in face-to-face dialogue. Dangling some carrots now in an unconditional dialogue with Tehran while the surge in Baghdad is only beginning could prove decisive.
What can Congress do to help? First, push the administration to support Iraq with the nonmilitary resources that are essential to progress there. Congress should hold immediate hearings to investigate why the nonmilitary elements of the administration’s strategy have failed so badly, and why the appropriate resources cannot be brought to bear. Second, add pressure on al-Maliki to convince him to take the tough measures required to settle the issues of oil revenues, federalism, and the militias. Congress should strengthen its efforts to investigate corruption inside the economic-development program, and demand stronger accounting for the Iraqi government’s and leaders’ relationships with Iran. And third, demand that the Bush administration commence an unconditional dialogue with the regional powers and each of Iraq’s neighbors immediately. This is the next sense-of-the-Congress resolution that is required.
For the United States, the possible use of force against Iran must remain on the table. But military conflict is not inevitable, and neither is Iranian nuclear weaponry. It is a matter of strategy and leadership. It’s time for the United States to stop isolating those it disagrees with, pretending that other nations have more influence, asking others to carry the burden of dialogue, and leaving our soldiers in Iraq to struggle without an adequate diplomatic strategy to reinforce their efforts. The evidence of the administration’s lack of diplomatic leadership is evident in the new agreement with North Korea, which could have been reached four years ago before the North Koreans acquired fuel for additional nuclear weapons. We cannot afford more delays with Iran while we pursue a misplaced strategy. Congress and the American people should demand that the administration step forward and lead.
March 27, 2007
Wes Clark on “Averting the Next Gulf War”
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