Earlier this month, Hillary Mann Leverett was interviewed on Antiwar Radio (can be heard here) to discuss the course of U.S.-Iranian diplomacy. The interview serves as a very good year-end review of U.S.-Iranian interactions during 2010, with a focus on the nuclear issue. So, as 2010 draws to a close, we thought our readers might appreciate the opportunity to access it here.
Hillary opens by laying out our argument that President Obama’s legacy on Iran policy is shaping up to be “change you can’t rely on”. She reviews how what many perceived as Obama’s early promise on Iran was undermined by the President’s advisers and squandered as a consequence of Obama’s own reluctance to follow up his nice rhetoric with a substantively different approach. She explicates Obama’s “double game” with Iran, in the form of the “dual track” (what used to be called “carrots and sticks”) approach to nuclear talks, and contrasts that with President Nixon’s very different approach to China. On this basis, she draws the critical policy point—that Washington needs to put sticks aside to show the Iranians that the United States is serious about realigning relations with them.
Hillary then tells the disappointingly revealing story of how the Obama Administration handled the issue of refueling the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) and the Iran-Turkey-Brazil Joint Declaration. She points out that this episode raises serious questions as to how much of Obama’s “failed promise” on Iran is due to the President’s advisers and how much should of the blame should actually be ascribed to the President himself.
Hillary extrapolates from these particular accounts to draw an important and disturbing “big picture” analysis of Obama’s handling of foreign policy and the enormous “structural problems” facing a President who wants to reorient U.S. policy away from a trajectory leading to another damaging and counter-productive war in the Middle East. She recalls that candidate Obama ran for the presidency promising not just to end America’s military involvement in Iraq, but to end the “mindset” that got America into that war in the first place. But now, having won the presidency, Obama is no longer trying to change that mindset; rather, he is “appeasing” it.
In a similar spirit, she reviews Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarkable rhetorical zig-zags regarding the Russian-built Bushehr reactor to highlight the bigger point that the Obama Administration is completely failing to understand and deal with “the rise of Iran”, just like it is failing to understand and deal with the rise of Turkey. She characterizes the idea that the United States can somehow keep Iran from obtaining major regional power status as a “fantasy”. But it is a fantasy which greatly distorted the approach of both the George W. Bush Administration and the Obama Administration to the Iranian nuclear issue and the broader question of U.S.-Iranian relations.
Hillary also offers a multi-faceted assessment of how America’s Iraq war has (probably irrevocably) changed the balance of power in the Middle East. She concludes by addressing questions about U.S.-sponsored covert programs in and against the Islamic Republic and what their continuation signals about Obama’s failed promise to change America’s approach to Iran.
As always, we appreciate any and all comments that readers wish to offer about this post. But, we are also thinking about how to best to respond to readers’ requests for enhanced possibilities for interactive discussions on topics not necessarily related to those on which we post. We hope to have something concrete in this regard to put forward early in 2011. One of the things that is truly unique about www.RaceForIran.com is the enormously high-quality of the commentors and discussants who write in. We think that creating more and better space for that discussion is a great idea.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett