Obama, Iran, and Where We Go From Here (TM)

For those of you who aren’t up on it, Obama took the fairly amazing step of creating a video which was a direct appeal to the Iranian people and the leaders of Iran for peaceful, warmer relations. The Ayatollah, in turn, offered his own response, saying that they were willing to see a shift in relations, but also implied that the US dropping sanctions on Iran and dropping Israel as an ally would be prerequisites for any shift in relatoins.

Meanwhile, while it is true that initial Iranian governmental reactions have been luke warm in general, Mahmoud “aint not gays in Iran” Ahmadinejad is up for reelection in June and faces what some have described as a serious challenge from reformers who favor better, closer, warmer ties with the west in general and the US in specific. Of course, we should remember that Iran is not a democracy and its President is largely a figurehead/puppet, and much will depend on how its theocratic Supreme Leader decides to treat this overture.

As I’ve cited before, the Iranian people themselves, overwhelmingly oppose Iran’s drive towards nuclear enrichment if cessation would bring economic benefits and warmer relations with the wests, oppose their theocracy, support democracy and a roughly 50% (+/- 5%) tend to support recognition of a two state solution in the I/P conflict in exchange for warm relations with the US. This trend has stayed true in virtually all of the recent polls up to one conducted just before the most recent US election. There is a real possibility that if Obama pushes hard enough, the people of Iran will be able to have enough grassroots support that they can (finally), live in a democracy that’s economically prosperous and has warm ties with the rest of the world, rather than a thuggish theocracy which imposes its will through its ‘morality police’ and public executions of homosexuals for the ‘crime’ of their sexuality.

But, what’s unclear is exactly where we go from here, and how. I’d contend that it is fairly obvious that American voters and politicians simply would not accept abandoning Israel as an ally any more than they’d be willing to drop Canada or the UK as allies. That’s simply off the table, and such an initiative would receive traction with nobody but fringe elements of the left and the right. Which isn’t to say that when asked general questions about what sort of a role we should play in the peace process that the majority of Americans wouldn’t say that we should attempt to be a neutral broker as much as possible. So, I’d say, dropping support for Israel is a non-starter, but being able to broker a successful two state solution (with or without Hamastan) would be seen as a momentous enough change for the Iranian people and much of their leadership that an actual end to the US-Israeli alliance would not be necessary.

Likewise, demanding that we end sanctions while Iran is still blocking a full IAEA investigation is a non-starter. And without the implementation of the Additional Protocol, “the Agency will not be in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.”

Absent that assurance, and especially while Iran continues to support Hamas and more specifically Hezbollah, it does not seem likely that the western community in general or America in specific will be willing, let alone eager, to end sanctions.

So what has to happen from us to get from Point A (representing mutual hostility, distrust, and potential military action) , to Point B (a free and prosperous Iranian citizenry, an end to its support for international terrorism, and an end to sanctions concurrent with Iran being welcomed back into the global community)? I’m at a loss to explain what that course of action could be, other than for Obama, along with European powers, to push for a two state solution as fast as situtionally possible, while continuing to make appeals to the Iranian people themselves with promises of the rewards that increased cooperation could bring.

What are your thoughts?

I would love to see the reformers come into power. The Ayatollah is a smart man and is likely establishing his negotiating position. The point is to have things to give up in any negotiation, so you must start from a somewhat belligerent position. If the other party really wants to negotiate you show yourself as willing to negotiate, enthusiastic even, but loathe to give things up. Make what you give up hard won for the other side and ultimately you have to give up less. Our desires for Iran are that the Ayatollah be reduced in power. That’s not a strong negotiating position in this instance.

time magazine has an interesting article about the “soft revolution” in the middle east. that many are turning from militant and theocratic ideal to a more moderate path while holding onto islam as life path to follow not a club to beat the path into submission.

it goes along with what obama said in the state of the union about how leaders are judged by what they build not what they destroy. people are starting to get tired of what the leaders have brought down on the countries.

iran is one of the places that this revolution is turning. it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

It certainly could be a bargaining tactic. You need to take an initial position that leaves you enough room to modify it while still using it as a bargaining tool, and saving face in the process.

But that doesn’t give us any real concrete answer, or reduce my uncertainty as to Where We Go From Here[sup]tm[/sup].

What will the most likely initial, intermediate, and final steps of any negotiations look like? How long will they take? Is it a serious possibility that Obama will have ended the threat of Hezbollah while helping bring about democracy in Iran and a two state solution between I/P within four years? Would it take two terms? Are we talking about a 20 year long project here? Will the Iranians themselves have to stage another revolution first before the theocracy will loosen its grip enough that the west can be comfortable with the result or will they become another Saudi Arabia, an oppressive, thuggish theocracy that we’re buddy buddy with because they offer us strategic and economic advantages? Will Fatah have to cleave strongly enough to peace and Hamas be sufficiently marginalized before we have leverage with Iran? Will resolution with Iran be the catalyst which helps the I/P conflict once Hamas and Hezbollah no longer have funding, Iranian weapons/military training?

Edit: missed your response on preview, chair, my statement was in response to mswas.

Yeah…that’s the kicker. I don’t think there is any way to get there from here as things stand…I think that the locked down goals of both countries, as they are today, are mutually exclusive. Of course, if the situation changes…

Agreed. There is no way we’d move into even a more neutral position wrt Israel, let alone move to a complete break with them. And I doubt anything less than a complete break would be enough to satisfy the current regime in Iran.

Agreed…it’s the kind of role we should play, and I agree we should push this agenda and try and broker a peace, especially since Obama seems to be much more warmly received over seas than our, um, former President was. But I don’t think this is going to get any additional traction with Iran regardless, so wrt your OP I don’t think it moves us forward.

It’s a worthy goal, and I agree it would perhaps gets some traction with the Iranian PEOPLE…but unless there is a significant sea change in the Iranian government I doubt it would move us closer.

Still, I think it IS a worthy goal, and if Obama can get any kind of traction on this I would be extremely thrilled. Maybe it’s time…but the pessimistic side of me thinks, ‘yeah, right…that’s what you’ve been saying and hoping for for decades now’.

Agreed…but unlike the other locked goal Obama might NOT agree with this one, or may be willing to let it go. I think there is, politically, more traction for letting this one slide, especially from the left, than the first one, and Obama may calculate that he can give in on this point.

I think it would be a mistake…but then, he’s the president, not me, and he may make his own calculations here, and on other factors.

I don’t know. It’s hard to say how our European allies view this. Certainly their governments would not be eager to give them up, on the surface at least, but I think there is a significant number of folks both in Europe and here in the US that may be willing to compromise on this issue if it means we’d have potentially better relations.

Again, I think this would be a mistake…but I’m not so sure others agree with me. And I have no idea how Obama feels about this, or if in his own calculations it would be worth the risk to get traction on better relations with Iran.

The hope, I suppose, is that eventually there WILL be a sea change in the Iranian political structure that will allow for better relations in the future. Right now though, unless Obama is willing to compromise our current stance, I think we are looking at mutually exclusive goals.


link to article:


Change in Iran has to come from within and a shift in the election toward a more moderate mouthpiece would be a public announcement of those changes. The problem is that any candidate that doesn’t tow the line is kept from running.

When the religious police lose the ability to control the populace change will happen quickly.

Problem is, the fact that we aren’t going to reduce support much less break off our alliance means we have little leverage with Israel - they can ignore any request we make, with the knowledge that there’s no penalty for doing so. And the fact that we are so clearly partisan towards Israel ( among other things ) means we have little leverage with Israel’s opponents; they have no reason to consider us a neutral, honest broker in any negotiations.

However good an idea a two state solution ( or any other ) is, I don’t think it’s one we can pull off. And to be frank, it’s rather arrogant for us to assume we can just decide that they are going to get along, for our political profit. They’ll keep fighting as long as they want to keep fighting, regardless of what we do.

I also don’t think that solving the Palestinian/Israel conflict would have much effect on our relationship with Iran, anyway. They have plenty of better reasons to be hostile to us.

I’m afraid you may be right, but I’m not certain.

  1. Could be. I’ve gotten the feeling that even Iran’s Theocrats would be somewhat willing to compromise as long as they could at least have the appearance of having won some of their goals, especially wrt Israel. Would an independent West Bank do that? I’d like to think yes, but I admit it’s just a hunch.
  2. Obama also hasn’t had much time to do all that much overseas as he’s been dealing with one of the worst financial crises in US history. I am, at least, willing to wait that one out. In a situation where perception and presentation matters to such a great degree, I’d like to hope that Obama’s approach has a real chance of moving the process forward. He does seem to grok the fundamentals: Hamas are genocidal loons who have no place at the table until they reform, a two state solution with negotiated compromises must happen eventually, and sooner than later is much better. As you point out, of course, we’ve all been through this time and again from Carter on down. But I suppose hope springs eternal.

I’d like to think that there is a certain ‘boiling point’ past which theocrats can no longer remain in power if the populace refuses to be governed. I’d hope for a bloodless revolution, but sometimes people have to fight for their own freedom. All the data points I’ve seen point to a good percent of the Iranian people, slowly but surely, approaching a point where they’re willing to stand up and say “enough is enough!”

You are probably right… but there are some who will still listen to the IAEA (all the time, not just when its arguments can be cherry picked to support their cause of the day). And I do think that many European powers (and Arab, and eastern) are freaked out by Iran just as much by us, they’ve just let us play Bad Cop. But even Sarkozy has edged close to that role himself. (yah, but he’s far to the right for European politics, which practically makes him a pinko by American standards :wink: )

Europe, I think, will probably try to play both sides of the fence as long as they can. As long as there’s cash to be made, they’ll try to make it. But European LEO’s aren’t any more thrilled with Hezbollah’s presence there than we are with Hezbollah in the states. And pretty much nobody in power really wants to see a nuclear Iran in any case.

Obama’s remarks in the video, at least to me, tend to support the view that he isn’t going to put up with Iran’s sponsorship of international terrorism, and even if he eases sanctions it’ll be in exchange for some sort of concession on that point. Again, just a hunch, but it’s a strongish hunch, as they go. Not quite in Quasimodo territory though.

Could very well be. I think that with proper appeals to their populace as well as a significant enough perceptual shift wrt US actions, a true grass roots change may be coming. I can’t be sure. I’m going to read up on chair’s link to see if there’s anything new that I’ve missed.

Thanks, I’ll definitely chew that over, hadn’t seen it before.



Start smuggling in thousands upon thousands of small cheap satellite dishes tuned to pick up a signal of Farsi-dubbed James Bond movies, Baywatch episodes and oodles of porn. I gotta figure that’ll accelerate the people’s discontent with the Mullahs.

Honestly, I don’t think that’s a bad idea. If anything, the last few decades have shown us that the Islamists have one thing right: western culture really does have a corrosive effect on many traditional ways of life. American culture, in particular, is nearly a brand in and of itself, with Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Holywood serving, in a very real sense ,as our ambassadors.

One of the surest ways to break down hostility to western culture is to actually let people get a belly full of it. Sure, some puke it up, but if one thing fast food culture is good at, it’s being consumed.

P.S. it also might help explain what’s already been happening. As the LA Times put it “Iran: Satellite dishes banned but oh so popular.”

Actually, Obama was smart to do this. He has automatically put Ahmahdinajad’s credibility on the line. Allof a sudden, the bluster and threats are shown to be ineffective-and suddenly, the Iranian leadership is being shown up as fools. Now the people of Iran are wondering-gee, maybe we DON’T need missiles and atomic bombs. Maybe we can focus on our 230% inflation, and 30% unemployment. The mullahs now have cause to worry-we have removed the “Great Satan” as a threat-so what will keep these fools in power?

I think Bryan Ekers was talking mostly tongue in cheek there, but I agree…it’s an excellent suggestion. Heck, even as things stand it’s a constant wearing away of the theocracies death grip on the population. I read an article a few years ago about an American reporter going into Iran, and everywhere he went the most negative emotion he received on telling the people he was interviewing was apathy…and in many cases people were genuinely glad to talk to him and asked him when relations with America were going to get better again.


Yah, I did think he was kidding, but at the same time, it is inherently a pretty damn good idea in its rough outlines. Of course it’s not perfect and it’s a bit of a double edged sword… I remember a story I once read of a woman who was traveling in Europe during the early 1980’s, and many of the young children there wanted to know if her father was a gangster or a cowboy… since from watching American movies they’d gotten the idea that those were pretty much the only two career paths open to Americans. (She told them, cowboy).

Chair: that is some fascinating stuff that I was largely unaware of, thanks for the link. The Hadith Project, in particular, if fairly mindblowing. It will be interesting to see where things go within 10 years time, say, but it seems that Obama at least has a fairly ripe opportunity if he can take advantage of it. Quick, someone forward that link to the White House! :wink:

That’s something I’ve been saying for a long time. Threatening Iran only gives them an external enemy to focus on.

As a general rule, using threats and violence in the ME to try to get countries to change their behavior seems counterproductive. In my experience, people are very sensitive to humiliation, and nobody wants to be seen as climbing down out of fear or weakness; so when the US uses threats, it pretty much guarantees that we will NOT get our way. But it seems like for the longest time naked aggression was the only respected manner of conducting foreign affairs in the US. Ergo, everybody loses. Let’s hope this is changing.

Obama and the west have almost no power over Iran. Appealing to its people is pointless because the people do not control power in Iran. The ayatollahs have decided that nuclear weapons will make them the regional hegemon, and there is nothing we have to offer them that could compete with that. What will have to happen is that the price of gas falls to a point where Iran starts to run out of money to fund its nuclear program and internal security. Once the ayatollahs have to cut back on its security forces, someone in the secular government could force a showdown. If the politicians win the showdown, Iran could be free of the ayatollahs. It is exactly what happened to the Soviet Union. It ran out of money for its army and a reforming politician took advantage of the moment to seize power.

Actually, I wasn’t kidding at all, though my tone may have seemed a bit flippant. It’s just a modern update on Radio Free Europe though in this case the material won’t be (obviously) political in nature. Workable satellite dishes (or the information on how to make them) can be produced cheaply with the goal of distributing so many of them in so many places that Iran’s morality police will be bogged down and forced to adopt an even greater image of the public killjoy.

It’s a suggestion I’ve floated here before.

Fair enough then, a good suggestion that I’d agree with 100%.

And, Puddle, I can’t agree with that. The people don’t have no power. Even an autocratic thug has to be somewhat mindful of the people’s views, and revolutions aren’t unheard of. Hell, Iran got where it is now precisely because they rebelled against an autocratic thug. If Obama manages to win over the Iranians themselves, we might very well see some serious change.

i found the hadith project is particularly interesting. that could end up really changing islam and putting a divide between what is islamic and what is an ethnic custom.

mindblowing is an understatement!