The author, Christina Vachon, is a graduate student at George Washington University where she is pursuing her Master’s degree in International Affairs with a concentration in International Security Studies. She is currently an intern at the Partnership for a Secure America and has a research interest in security policy in the Middle East.
When Iran Gets the Bomb
Even though a short term deal with Iran has been reached, the US should prepare for the chance that Iran will cheat. As talks continue toward a long term agreement, the US should assess what Iran, the Middle East, and the world will look like if Iran gets the bomb. There is a lack of consensus on what happens if and when Iran gets the bomb. Due to the uncertainty that exists about Iran and its program, continued diplomatic efforts are important in order to gain more information about the situation, to better relations, and to prepare for a nuclear Iran. It is important though that all options remain on the table in order to protect US interests.
Jayson Browder is a decorated Air Force and Iraq Veteran. A recent graduate of Fordham University, Jayson was named a National Finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 2012 and was recently awarded the William J. Fulbright Scholarship for 2013 to Turkey. Currently Jayson holds a position as a Military Legislative Assistant for Congressman Beto O’Rourke in the United States House of Representatives. This article originally appeared on PolicyMic.
Congress’ Iran Policy: Short Sighted and Irrational
Clear thought, rational thinking, and innovative ideas are desperately needed in the 113th Congress. Unfortunately, a large number of members of the House of Representatives have let short-term priorities and easy political points cloud their judgment. This has made for some poor and unfortunate votes that, for some partial short-term gains, will have long-term repercussions for the United States and our allies abroad. Examples of this include the failure to pass a budget for four years, the failure to solve the sequester, the failure to solve the debt ceiling, and most recently, the votes to place more stringent sanctions than ever on Iran.
By William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering, and Jim Walsh. Thomas Pickering is a PSA Advisory Board Member and a former US Ambassador to the United Nations. The article was originally published in the New York Review of Books.
For a New Approach to Iran
Could this be the year for an engagement with Iran that “is honest and grounded in mutual respect,” as President Obama proposed over four years ago? That goal seems unlikely without a shift in Iranian thinking and without a change in American diplomatic and political strategy. But two developments, one in Iran and one in the region, provide reason to think that diplomatic progress might be possible.
The first is Iran’s recent presidential election, which Hassan Rouhani won thanks to an alliance between Iran’s reformist and moderate camps. Together with the departure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this may provide the Obama administration the chance to start a new phase of relations with Iran. The second development is the war in Syria, which has the potential to grow into a region-wide Shia–Sunni conflict. This poses a direct threat to Iran’s vital interests, giving Tehran an incentive to reduce tensions with the international community.2
Iran and the United States have many important differences, but an agreement on Iran’s nuclear capability should be a critical priority. This could open the door to conversations with Iran regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. A functioning US-Iranian relationship could also help advance diplomatic efforts on Syria.
Megan Fantoni is an intern at Partnership for a Secure America. She is a graduate of Tufts University where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and History.
The Path to a Surprising Victor in the Iranian Presidential Election
The Iranian election of Hassan Rouhani catalyzed an international discussion on the implications of the moderate candidate’s victory. As the only moderate candidate on the ticket, Hassan Rouhani’s decisive 51% victory in a six-way presidential race demanded the attention of the international community and highlighted unrest within the Iranian population. More jarring than the fact that Rouhani received the most votes in the election is the fact that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, appears ready to allow the moderate party to officially take hold of the presidency. Only four years ago Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected amidst widespread violence at the poll, vote miscounts, and a generally corrupt presidential election.
Various factors attributed to this surprising result. First, the Principlist Party was unable to unite and rally behind one leader. In the last stages of the campaign, the other moderate candidates dropped out of the race and publicly supported Rouhani. On the other hand, on election day, there were five separate conservative candidates. With the conservative vote split five ways, it would be very hard for one conservative candidate to gain a majority vote. It would have been possible for Khamanei to alter the election results to secure a conservative victory if there was one Principlist candidate, rather than a compilation of five separate conservative candidates. As we look at the results, it is impressive to see that Rouhani received over half of the country’s vote; however, it is also evident that almost half (49%) of the country still strongly agrees with the conservative ideology and may affect any shifts in future policy.
Some scholars go as far as to say that Rouhani’s victory can largely be attributed to the anti-conservative feelings towards the Iranian government and current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The people of Iran have suffered under the economic strain of international sanctions imposed on Iran because of its nuclear program. In a recent panel, Karim Sadjadpour from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated that the election “was a reflection of profound discontent with the status quo, rather than a deep-seated affinity for the candidate himself.” Rouhani’s campaign platform included rhetoric such as ending an “era or extremism” and “hope and prudence” – language in stark contrast to that of the conservatives. The late rush of support from the voters of Iran derives from frustration over the current government and countrywide economic and social hardship.
Another factor contributing to Rouhani’s victory was the televised four-hour-long presidential debate on May 31st. Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institute stated in her testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the presidential debate was one of the most important factors in the election because it included anti-isolationist rhetoric that appealed to the Iranian people who desperately want change in their country. Challenging the official narrative of the Islamic Republic, the debate fueled citizens to vote moderate in the hopes of improving their country’s economic stance and international presence.
As important as Rouhani’s victory was, U.S. policymakers and scholars alike have advised caution towards this new leader. Members of Congress and scholars from Brookings Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Carnegie Endowment in a recent panel have all made the same point: Rouhani is only a moderate leader when viewed in the context of current politics in Iran. To enter into the presidential race, Rouhani was approved by the Supreme Leader and, in effect, the conservative faction. Mr. Sadjadpour describes Rouhani’s politics in maintaining the ideals of the Islamic Republic by “moderating its style more than substance.”
Moving forward from Rouhani’s surprise election, critics are re-examining Western policy towards Iran and how this might shift with the new president. Almost universally, experts are stating that U.S. and international sanctions have been successful in adding pressure on the government of Iran. Acknowledging the relative success of the sanctions imposed on Iran, many in Washington have urged for deepening and broadening sanctions against the Iranian nuclear program. In addition to urging continual pressure, Ray Tekeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations warns that Rouhani will be a tougher adversary because he is a skilled negotiator, and his seemingly more reasonable requests may cause fractions in the international coalition opposed to the nuclear program.
Although there remain many questions about what kind of leader Rouhani will be and how his policies will change Iran’s relations with the rest of the world, his election reflects the widespread disapproval of the Supreme Leader and the conservative party by the Iranian people. Rouhani steps into his presidency in August with a small mandate calling for a shift in policy and for an improvement in economic and social climate in the country. Still, one must wonder if the Supreme Leader will permit a genuine deviation from his hard-line position on the nuclear program and relations with the rest of the world. With Rouhani’s election, this may be an opportune time to test how much moderation and flexibility on the nuclear question he brings to his office.
Thomas Pickering, member of the PSA Advisory Board, along with esteemed colleges Anthony Zinni and Jim Walsh authored this Op-ed originally published in the Chicago Tribune.
What to do about Iran?
Adlai Stevenson once advised that “to act coolly, intelligently and prudently in perilous circumstances is the true test of a man — and also of a nation.” In the face of Iran’s potential for becoming a nuclear weapons state and a threat to Israel, U.S. leaders would be smart to follow Stevenson’s advice and act prudently and intelligently.
There is little doubt that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose dangerous challenges to U.S. interests and security, as well as to the security of Israel. There is no question of the seriousness of the problems presented by Iran’s nuclear program or the need to consider the use of military force as a last resort.
This article was written by two Spring 2012 Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program. All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Hill Staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
Putin’s Complicated Foreign Policy
Within weeks of being inaugurated in his third term as the President of Russia in May, Vladimir Putin announced his decisions to skip the G-8 summit at Camp David, and to send Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in London, sending commentators in the Western world into a frenzy. Many in the United States proclaimed (and mourned) the end of the Russia reset. This view only increased as Putin appeared to turn his attention to his immediate neighbor, Belarus, making his first international visit with President Alexander Lukashenko, and then attending a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Additionally, Putin has joined China in opposing UN efforts to sanction Syria, a move that has frustrated many, while Russia continues to supply the Assad regime with weapons. Although the Russian reset with the West technically took place during Dmitri Medvedev’s presidency, there is little doubt that then-Prime Minister Putin was heavily involved in this decision (as well as most others). What, then, explains this sudden and drastic shift?
Retired Adm. William J. Fallon was head of U.S. Central Command from 2007 to 2008. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, was a U.S. senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009. Former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton was vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission. Thomas Pickering was undersecretary of state for political affairs from 1997 to 2000 and previously served as U.S. ambassador to Russia, Israel, Jordan and the United Nations. Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni was head of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000. This blog posting previously appeared in the Washington Post.
War with Iran is not inevitable, but U.S. national security would be seriously threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran. Particularly given the recent speeches at the U.N. General Assembly, military action is being discussed intensely. Public discussion of military action, however, is often reduced to rhetoric and partisan politics. We propose a nonpartisan, reasoned debate about the implications for the United States of another war in the wider Middle East.
Ambassador Crocker Speaks on Middle East Issues After Leaving State Dept.
On September 17, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, appearing in his first public event since his tour in Kabul. A small audience was given special insight into arguably the most experienced living U.S. Ambassador with assignments in the Middle East. Ambassador Crocker has served in Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and, most recently, Afghanistan. Having returned to civilian life, Crocker often stated to the audience that he was now a “free” man. As such, the audience was privileged to have this opportunity to hear from someone who has spent nearly 40 years abroad and could speak candidly and honestly about situations on the ground and the relationships between states in the region.
This article was written by two Spring 2012 Participants in PSA’s Congressional Fellowship Program. All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Fellows who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
The Timing Just Isn’t Right
What is preventing the United States and Russia from pursuing further nuclear disarmament talks beyond the New START treaty?
In the U.S., a flurry of debate has taken place among elected officials and the arms control community since the enactment of the New START treaty. The debate has centered on determining the number of weapons needed to maintain a minimal deterrent, modernization of the strategic triad, the role of missile defense and what role and utility do nuclear weapons have in our defense strategy today. Skeptics of further disarmament have argued that larger reductions, without adequate modernization, will lead to instability by inviting aggression against allies who are considered protected by the U.S.’s extended deterrent. Those in favor of disarmament have countered that the current U.S. arsenal far exceeds what is necessary to deter nuclear attack and reducing the force level would be a smart way to meet defense spending targets set in the Budget Control Act. Despite the timeliness of the budgetary argument, the skeptics are clearly carrying the day, as both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act include robust funding levels for the nuclear triad and provide funding for large modernization projects not requested in the President’s budget.
Next Page »
This article was written by Sen. Gary Hart and Rep. Lee Hamilton, members of PSA’s Advisory Board, and Matthew Hodes, PSA Executive Director. The article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.
Enlarging the Frame
With the next round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran coming up on May 23rd in Baghdad, we know that the parties have concluded further talks could be useful. But it still appears that the central thrust of the P5+1 (the U.S., U.K., China, Russia, France and Germany) will be limited to immediate concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and not the underlying issues that define Iran’s relationship with the international community. While we must hope that approach bears fruit, we must not lose sight of the wider frame that represents the more strategic approach, and just possibly, offers a higher likelihood of long term success.
We already know what one version of negotiations limited to the nuclear agenda can produce. In 2010, Brazil and Turkey brokered a potential deal with Iran, consistent with Iran’s existing obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that would have dealt with the enrichment issue currently under discussion but the U.S. government rejected that approach, choosing to pursue a stricter sanctions regime in the U.N. Security Council. At the same time, we also have evidence of what broader, more comprehensive negotiations might look like. In 2003, a memo, provided by the then-Swiss Ambassador to Iran, described the outline of a comprehensive U.S.-Iran negotiation process. The U.S. government questioned its legitimacy and took no action. Regardless of its provenance, the memo provided an illustration of the critical interests, the underlying issues, both for the U.S. and for Iran. Any negotiation with the Iranians over their nuclear program will stand a better chance of success if the broader issues that have created tensions since 1979, especially Iran’s role in the Middle East region, can be resolved.
What interests would the U.S. and the West want to promote and protect? Paraphrasing the memo, we would want an Iran that had no nuclear weapons or weapons program, with verification from IAEA without obstruction; we would want Iran to end its support to terror groups, including but not limited to Hamas and Hezbollah; we would want Iran to end its efforts to thwart Arab-Israeli peace and accept the two-state solution concept and; we would want an end to any effort to de-stabilize governments in the region and cooperation in efforts of the international community in Iraq and Afghanistan. Put simply, the U.S. will insist that Iran behave like a responsible neighbor in the region and submit itself to appropriate scrutiny to prove it is behaving in that manner.
What interests would the Iranians want to promote and protect? Iran would want an end to efforts to de-stabilize the current regime and acceptance into the international community of nations; Iran would want a lifting of all sanctions; Iran would want access to peaceful nuclear technology and; Iran would want Western recognition of Iranian security interests in the region. Put simply, Iran will want to normalize its status in the world and feel secure from any threats of regime change.
Thomas Pickering and William Luers, respected former U.S. diplomats, used a similar line of thought. In a recent article they used as a point of reference Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 and described the anecdote in which Nixon wrote down what the Chinese would want, what we would want and what we both would want, describing this list as Nixon’s “analytical pillars.” Applying that framework to U.S.-Iran relations, they suggested a set of shared interests that one could easily take from the aims described above. They suggested that both Iran and the United States would want stability in the region, the end of terrorism, the reincorporation of Iran into the international community, and no war. Barry Blechman of the Stimson Center has also weighed in, suggesting a broader agenda that would include the issue of nuclear weapons. Far from being a sign of weakness, our willingness to offer both carrots and sticks would show our confidence. The Iranians would know that there is an alternative to war or capitulation; at the same time we would not remove military options from our list of contingencies should comprehensive negotiations fail.
As we approach the next round of negotiations, we must beware of extreme voices that will want to limit the conversation to an expansion of threats — a structure of confrontation or capitulation. Bellicose words can box us in just as they can box in the Iranians, making a military confrontation more likely. We would be better served by quiet, frank discussions about our respective interests and our potentially shared interests. We should never forget that during the Cold War, we faced an adversary that was equipped and prepared to destroy us and our allies. But while we never let our guard down, we nevertheless looked for opportunities to cooperate. Eventually, we found areas of mutual interest that helped build confidence in our ability to manage that complicated relationship. That policy worked for us during the Cold War; it should work for us with a regional actor today.
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.