Home/Daniel Larison/Fixing the Iran Crisis Requires New Leadership

Fixing the Iran Crisis Requires New Leadership

Seyed Hossein Mousavian offers the Trump administration a way out of the Iran crisis that it created:

If there’s any hope of a constructive resolution, the U.S. president must abandon his bullying tactics and his sanctions policy in order to provide space for diplomacy. The most urgent task for the U.S. administration is now to establish credible communication channels and to appoint a new team that has a better understanding of the political realities in Iran and across the region.

Trump would do well to follow this advice, but I fear he has already burned his bridges with Iran and won’t have an opportunity to repair them. A constructive resolution is very much in the interests of both countries. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to reverse all of the damaging decisions that Trump has made over the last fifteen months before the U.S. presidential election campaign begins in earnest. So far, there is absolutely no sign that Trump thinks he needs to change course. Changing course would be to admit that his approach to foreign policy in general and to Iran in particular has been disastrously wrong, and Trump isn’t going to admit that he made such a huge error. Meanwhile, his yes-men Bolton and Pompeo are telling him that “maximum pressure” is “working” when it clearly isn’t, and he isn’t hearing from anyone that would tell him anything different. Trump doesn’t know that his policy has failed, and he wouldn’t know how to fix it if he did.

If Trump wanted to change course, I doubt he could find a new team that has “a better understanding of the political realities in Iran and across the region” because the people that have that understanding wouldn’t work for him. The Trump administration is “is deeply unfamiliar with the dynamics of Iran’s politics, culture and society,” as Mousavian says, but the same could be said of the vast majority of Iran hawks in the GOP. It appears that the U.S. is regrettably stuck with a failed Iran policy for the remainder of Trump’s term. The only realistic chance of finding a constructive resolution to the crisis that he created is if the voters choose a new president next fall. Even a change of administration is no guarantee of ending the crisis, but without it the crisis seems likely to get worse.

Mousavian acknowledges the many obstacles to a diplomatic solution, and I agree that they would be difficult to overcome even if the president were willing to try. The problem is that there is no evidence that Trump actually wants a diplomatic solution. The “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran is a bid to make the president look “tough” in the eyes of key constituencies, donors, and client states regardless of the negative consequences for U.S. interests and regional stability. Trump might be happy to have a photo op summit that makes it look as if his policy is successful, but it seems clear that he has no interest in reaching a meaningful compromise that Iran would be willing to accept. At this point, there is too much mistrust that has built up between this administration and Iran. It will take a change in leadership before the Iranian government will have someone they would be willing to talk to, and even then there would need to be a dramatic reversal in U.S. policy before that could happen.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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