Iran: War or Peace?

author: Kenneth M. Pollack, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
published: July 24, 2013,   recorded: March 2007,   views: 2328

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The Bush administration’s panic about failing in Iraq is now driving its fierce attitude toward Iran, according to Kenneth Pollack. President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union message hinted at exercising military force to deal with an Iran it accused of stoking up insurgency in Iraq. Pollack points out that historically, this administration tends to point the finger at others when its strategy proves faulty. Not that long ago, the U.S. suggested Saddam Hussein was behind all the Middle East’s problems, says Pollack, and then when we removed him, “bizarrely, the problems didn’t go away.” So now, the U.S. accuses Iran of sending deadly explosive devices into Iraq, killing Americans and obstructing reconstruction efforts there.

This “knee-jerk and customary response of saber rattling” is contrary to our best interests not just in Iraq, says Pollack, but in the monumental effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. There are steps the U.S. must take if it hopes to avoid an even greater Middle Eastern debacle. Pollack suggests a change in tack, and tone, by pursuing rational diplomatic initiatives. The U.S., says Pollack, should ask Iran to use its influence in Iraq to diminish the mayhem there -- and offer the Iranians something in return. Spell out positive goals, and provide incentives, he suggests.

And while engaged in a dialogue around Iraq, continue with international allies to apply economic pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Pollack points out that Iran’s economy “continues to do poorly at a time when oil money is flooding its coffers, causing popular unhappiness.” If starved of foreign capital, Iran may be forced to choose between an expensive nuclear weapons program and salvaging its economy. When North Korea chose nuclear weapons, three million people starved, recalls Pollack. Iran is unlikely to make the same decision. So “slowly turn up the heat” while offering to help jumpstart a new, high tech-based economy.

Most important, Pollack hammers home, is that the Bush administration lose the bellicose rhetoric – i.e., stop “intoning its mantra of ‘all options are on the table.’” Hardliners in Iran welcome the opportunity to cast the U.S. as an unfair bully intent on keeping Iran weak. The administration seems to be looking for ways to rescue its legacy from the debacle of Iraq. Its only hope is by dropping aggressive rhetoric and “rediscovering diplomacy,” including the use of rewards and bartering, says Pollack. The administration has not been known for “subtlety and patience,” concludes Pollack, so Iran may prove to be the acid test for a genuine attempt at diplomacy.

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