On two separate but related fronts -- the confrontation over the nuclear issue and Ahmadinejad's ideological belligerence, particularly regarding Israel -- Iran has once again taken center stage in the geopolitical discussion. As both Washington and Tehran dig their heels ever deeper and appear headed on a collision course, a debate is heating up among observers and writers over what is to be done.
In Thursday's New York Times Dariush Zahedi and Omid Memarian urge western leaders to consider how the Iranian regime views its own regional role vis-a-vis America's overstretch in Iraq and Afghanistan. While it's become a truism that Iran has been a (if not the) victor in the Iraq War, Zahedi and Memarian suggest that Ahmadinejad may in fact miscalculate Iran's strength and America's weakness in the region. Strikingly they claim that Ahmadinejad might actually welcome a US or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, as this would allow the regime to increase its power externally by galvanizing Iraq's Shiites and internally by undertaking further repression against Iranian dissidents. The US is likewise in a position to create severe problems for Iran through economic sanctions and by fomenting ethnic and sectarian tensions in the country -- something they say could lead to Iran's dismemberment as a nation-state. To avoid such scenarios, they urge both countries to take the path of compromise. They call on the US to lift its sanctions and on Ahmadinejad to follow a more pragmatic path regarding Israel.
In Thursday's Guardian Timothy Garton Ash warned that with the failure of the EU's negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issue, real danger could be ahead and must be avoided. His explanation for that failure: "The Europeans did not carry sufficiently credible sticks and the Americans did not wave enough carrots to sway the theocrats in Tehran." He makes the important point that Bush and Ahmadinejad are locked in a symbiotic relationship, with the neocons and the mullahs playing into each other's hands. While Garton Ash is emphatic that further diplomatic efforts must be made and is scornful of the saber-rattling emanating from Washington's hardliners, he admonishes Europeans to "take the threat of an unpredictable, fragmented Islamic revolutionary regime obtaining nuclear weapons very seriously indeed."
The US neoconservative William Kristol, in the flagship neocon magazine The Weekly Standard, lays bare his view that not merely should force not be ruled out as an option but that the US should begin to prepare for "various forms of military action." He does not call for giving up on diplomacy, but argues that "the only way diplomatic, political, and economic pressure has a chance to work" is if the military option is "kept on the table." He opposes the 'Israel option' of having Tel Aviv bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, calling it "escapist". Great powers, he says, must take care of such matters themselves, not "slough" them onto others. He goes to excoriate the EU, US liberals, and "even some in the Bush administration" for not believing "a nuclear Iran is unacceptable." In case you thought the Iraq imbroglio had quelled (or even seriously attenuated) the neocon penchant for regime-change as a strategy, guess again: "Our adversaries cannot be allowed to believe that, because some (my emphasis) of the intelligence on Iraq was bad, or because the insurgency in Iraq has been difficult, we will be at all intimidated from taking the necessary steps against the current regime in Tehran."