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Why Saying "U.S. Diplomacy will fail with Iran" is Wrong

Considering that in his last op-ed for the New York Times, Mr. Luttwak stated that the Muslim world will not accept Obama due to his “conversion to Christianity” (Muslim countries’ approval of U.S. leadership has increased under Obama’s presidency), it is no surprise that his op-ed published today in the Wall Street Journal on why U.S. Diplomacy will fail with Iran is also filled with errors.  Mr. Luttwak states:

But Mr. Obama’s critique failed to acknowledge that Bush’s incoherence paid off. Iran helped consolidate the post-invasion governments created by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq, even while supplying weapons to whoever would attack Americans. (For example, it lobbied for U.S. candidate Hamid Karzai to become chairman of the governing committee when Afghan leaders gathered in Germany in Dec. 2001.)

First of all, Iran’s support in creating post-invasion governments in Iraq and Afghanistan had nothing to do with Bush.  Does Mr. Luttwak seriously think that Iranians are naive enough to want Saddam Hussein (a man who had no scruples using chemical weapons against them) and Taliban (a group responsible for killing 11 Iranian diplomats and thousands of Shias in Afghanistan) to remain in power just because they are fighting against the U.S.?  Iran had every reason to support the U.S. in getting rid of the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It is a well-known fact that the Iranian government despised both Taliban and Saddam Hussein.  By getting rid of both Saddam Hussein and Taliban, the U.S. helped ease Iran’s security concerns.  Iraq, in fact, provides a great example of how helping the U.S. consolidate the post-invasion government was beneficial to Iranians.  For years Saddam Hussein funded the MEK, an anti-Iranian government terrorist group, but now under President Al-Maliki, MEK’s camp Ashraf has been closed down.

Secondly, if Bush’s incoherence had paid off, Iran would not be supplying weapons to whoever would attack Americans.  Didn’t Iran’s support of Shiite militias help make Iraq the mess it is?  Who else are we to blame for the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis and American soldiers?  Certainly not the Bush administration – right?

But wait there is more:

There was only one more step before “engagement” could begin: Mr. Obama’s June 4 Cairo speech in which he apologized for the August 1953 overthrow of Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. “In the middle of the Cold War,” he said, “the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” The CIA was certainly involved, but the cringing was quite unnecessary. By August 1953 Mosaddeq had dismissed Iran’s parliament and was ruling undemocratically by personal decree. When angry mobs converged on his residence, he fled to a U.S. aid office next door trusting that the Americans would save his life. They did.

I would suggest Mr. Luttwak to read All the Shah’s Men to understand why the U.S. needed to apologize for its role in the overthrow of Mosaddeq.  Also the angry mobs converging on Mosaddeq’s residence were organized by the U.S. in the first place (Source: Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men, p. 167- 192).

With Iran’s presidential selection of June 12 coming up, the all-powerful Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had his opportunity to replace the thoroughly unpresentable, loudly extremist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a more plausible negotiating partner for Mr. Obama. This strategy had been used before. In 1997, when the regime needed to calm unrest at home and mollify opinion abroad, it gave the presidency to the soft-spoken, elegantly robed, and supposedly liberalizing Mohammad Khatami. He was just the man to provide a moderate front for the clerical dictatorship. To be sure, by the time Mr. Khatami ended his presidency in 2005, everyone knew that he had not even tried to liberalize anything of substance.

While Iranian democracy is far from being perfect, it is unfair to say that Khatami became the President because the clerical regime picked him.  If this were the case, there would be no protests going on right now.  Why would thousands of Iranian go to streets to demonstrate against the clerical regime for a fraudulent election result, if they did not believe that their votes were counted in the first place.  Also, the unrest at home in 1997 started after Khatami’s election.  His victory inspired many young people to go to streets to demand for more freedom.  Excluding the on-going protests against the election results, the largest demonstrations in post-Iranian revolution history were the 1999 and 2003 student protests, when Khatami was the President.

Considering that Mr. Luttwak’s argument had numerous faults, I am still willing to have hope that the U.S. diplomacy will work in Iran.



Sahar Zubairy

Sahar Zubairy recently graduated from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas- Austin with Masters in Global Policy Studies. She graduated from Texas A&M University with Phi Beta Kappa honors in May 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. In Summer 2008, she was the Southwest Asia/Gulf Intern at the Henry L. Stimson Center, where she researched Iran and the Persian Gulf. She was also a member of a research team that helped develop a website investigating the possible effects of closure of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf by Iran.