by John Glaser
Both Nation reporter Robert Dreyfuss and Harvard professor Stephen Walt point today to a speech given by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he explains why America’s rhetoric about returning to negotiations are perceived as dishonest. Do read both of their articles.
Khamenei accurately cites a catalog of aggressive policies Washington has leveled against Iran, like “crippling” sanctions, surrounding Iran militarily, supporting Israel as it assassinates Iran’s civilian scientists, waging cyber-warfare, verbal threats of war, supporting Iran’s enemies in a deliberate attempt to undermine the regime, etc. etc. Then he says:
Now the Americans have raised the issue of negotiations again. They repeat that America is prepared to directly negotiate with Iran. This is not new. The Americans have repeatedly raised the issue of negotiations at every juncture. Now their newly appointed politicians repeat that we should negotiate. And they say that the ball is in Iran’s court.
It is you who should explain the meaning of negotiations that are accompanied by pressure and threats. Negotiations are for the sake of proving one’s goodwill. You commit tens of acts which show lack of goodwill and then you speak about negotiations. Do you expect the Iranian nation to believe that you have goodwill?… We do not see any goodwill.
Speaking a day earlier than Khamenei here, President Ahmadinejad summed it up more succinctly: “Take your guns out of the face of the Iranian nation and I myself will negotiate with you.”
And Iran’s UN Ambassador Mohammed Khazaee, in a discussion with former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering this month, said: ”As long as pressure is on Iran, as long as there is a sword on our neck to come to negotiations, this is not negotiations, therefore Iranians cannot accept that.”
It’s not just Iranians who perceive this underlying theme in the US-Iran relationship. American academics and officials, experts in US foreign policy, also recognize it. After the failed talks in 2009 and 2010, wherein Obama ended up rejecting the very deal he demanded the Iranians accept, as Walt has written, the Iranian leadership “has good grounds for viewing Obama as inherently untrustworthy.” Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar has concurred, arguing that Iran has “ample reason” to believe, “ultimately the main Western interest is in regime change.”
And Vali Nasr, former senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan and a leading Middle East expert writes in his new book that, for the Obama administration, “Pressure has become an end in itself.” They spoke of a dual track that consists of diplomacy and pressure, but, Nasr writes, it was “not even dual. It relied on one track, and that was pressure.”
“Engagement,” he adds, “was a cover for a coercive campaign of sabotage, economic pressure and cyberwarfare.”
Walt wonders out loud why the US seems unwilling to let up on the pressure:
So why do so many smart people keep embracing an approach to Iran that is internally contradictory and has consistently failed for more than a decade? I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect it has a lot to do with maintaining credibility inside Washington. Because Iran has been demonized for so long, and absurdly cast as the Greatest National Security Threat we face, it has become largely impossible for anyone to speak openly of a different approach without becoming marginalized. Instead, you have to sound tough and hawkish even if you are in favor of negotiations, because that’s the only way to be taken seriously in the funhouse world of official Washington (see under: the Armed Services Committee hearings on Chuck Hagel).
Yeah, it’s that. But it’s also that US grand strategy for a long time has been to maintain its own hegemony in the resource rich Middle East. Dominance, not diplomacy, is the goal.