Taking on Tehran

Also in Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Pollack, Director of Research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and Ray Takeyh, a Senior Fellow in Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations write about Iran. It’s quite a long piece, but here’s some of the introduction to get you hooked:

The hard part, of course, is making sure that Tehran never gets to that point. It appears to have made considerable progress in many aspects of its nuclear program, thanks to extensive assistance from Chinese, Germans, Pakistanis, Russians, and perhaps North Koreans. Iran’s clerical regime has also shown itself willing to endure considerable sacrifices to achieve its most important objectives.

Yet there is reason to believe that Tehran’s course can still be changed, if Washington takes advantage of the regime’s vulnerabilities. Although Iran’s hard-line leadership has maintained a remarkable unity of purpose in the face of reformist challengers, it is badly fragmented over key foreign policy issues, including the importance of nuclear weapons. At one end of the spectrum are the hardest of the hard-liners, who disparage economic and diplomatic considerations and put Iran’s security concerns ahead of all others. At the opposite end are pragmatists, who believe that fixing Iran’s failing economy must trump all else if the clerical regime is to retain power over the long term. In between these camps waver many of Iran’s most important power brokers, who would prefer not to have to choose between bombs and butter.

This split provides an opportunity for the United States, and its allies in Europe and Asia, to forge a new strategy to derail Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. The West should use its economic clout to strengthen the hand of Iranian pragmatists, who could then argue for slowing, limiting, or shelving Tehran’s nuclear program in return for the trade, aid, and investment that Iran badly needs. Only if the mullahs recognize that they have a stark choice–they can have nuclear weapons or a healthy economy, but not both–might they give up their nuclear dreams. With concern over Iran’s nuclear aspirations growing, the United States and its allies now have a chance to present Iran with just such an ultimatum.