There Is an Opportunity for Improved Relations with Iran
Hooman Majd comments on the results of Iran’s presidential election, and recommends an alternative to Trump’s hostility towards the country:
A smarter U.S. policy would take into account the fact that these tens of millions of Iranians voted for neither confrontation nor belligerence; rather, they cast their ballots for compromise, peaceful coexistence, and openness. Whatever the U.S. foreign policy toward Iran and the larger Middle East, one thing is clear: Iranians care about their country, care about their voices in its politics, and will support their president extending an open hand to the world. We should probably not — just to be different and for the sake of doing the opposite of whatever the Barack Obama administration did — show them our clenched fist.
Unfortunately, one of the few consistent positions Trump has held as both candidate and president is his hostility to Iran, and it is one that most politicians in Washington share. This would be regrettable at any time, but it is especially so when we can see that most Iranians support international engagement and gradual reform. Hard-liners in the U.S. desperately wanted Raisi to prevail so that they could claim that he represents the “true” face of Iran, but as we saw last week he doesn’t represent most Iranians. There is an opportunity here for the U.S. to reduce tensions with Iran if our leaders were wise enough to take it, and missing this opportunity could have substantial costs for both countries. Paul Pillar identifies what many of these costs are for the U.S.:
The costs arise from the hostility itself and from policies that flow from it, either directly as established by the Trump administration or indirectly by encouraging damaging actions by the U.S. Congress and setting a tone that sustains political support for the damaging actions. The policies in question involve rejection of any positive cooperation with Iran and support only for isolation and punishment of, and aggressive confrontation against, Iran.
As Pillar explains, pursuing a purely anti-Iranian policy in the region will make it harder to resolve the war in Syria, and it distorts our understanding of the region’s problems by laying the blame for most or all of them at Tehran’s doorstep. U.S. allies in Europe are interested in resuming trade with Iran, and pushing for more sanctions will put unnecessary and undesirable strains on relations with them. The more hostility the U.S. shows towards Iran, the better it is for Iranian hard-liners and worse it will be for the prospects for political and social reform. Finally, increased tensions with Iran makes it more likely than there could be a war that starts out of an incident or misunderstanding that gets out of control. Pursuing at least limited cooperation and engagement with Iran would benefit the interests of both the U.S. and Iran, it would bring our Iran policy closer to that of our genuine allies, and it would avoid putting our two governments on a collision course. If Trump and Iran hawks in Washington have their way, that opportunity will be squandered, and it will be worse for all involved.