February 3, 2010


Unlikely Revolutionaries
: How a former Iranian official and a U.S. foreign-policy guru are shifting Washington’s stance toward regime change in Tehran (Lee Smith, Feb 2, 2010, The Tablet)

[T]he realists in Washington are led by Richard Haass, the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations—who opposed the Bush administration’s Iran policy as too aggressive and famously argued that the US had no interest in throwing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait during the first Gulf War.

While neither man is a household name, the fact is that the policymaking process in Washington can be as inscrutable to outsiders as the inner workings of Iran’s famously opaque clerical regime. Public figures like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or James Jones, the national security adviser, are simply the most visible members of a broad circle of policymakers who cross the aisle just as frequently as they stick to partisan prejudices, and who speak to each other through private channels, thinktanks, and the media.

Haass’ influence on the tone of foreign policy discourse in Obama’s 2008 campaign and on the staffing of the State Department and White House makes him perhaps the most influential foreign policy expert in Washington who is not a member of the Obama administration. The fact that the tone-setter of much of Obama’s public discourse about foreign policy has now become a proponent of “regime change”—the phrase associated with George W. Bush’s brazen invasion of Iraq—is enough to make any observer do a double take. During the reign of the neoconservatives in Washington, Haass and the realists delighted in savaging the Bush administration’s miscues and recommended a return to a more pragmatic foreign policy. Haass even invited Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address the Council in a controversial 2006 session, paving the way for candidate Barack Obama’s campaign promise that he would talk to anyone, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran.

However, now more than a year into Obama’s term, the engagement with Tehran that Haass and the realists wanted has led nowhere. Moreover, the anti-government demonstrations taking place throughout Iran have not abated, as some had prophesied in June.

With more protests expected for the 30th anniversary of the revolution on February 11, it seems the realists are now jumping off the “engagement with Iran” bandwagon. “The nuclear talks are going nowhere,” Haass wrote in a January issue of Newsweek. Instead, he argued:

we should be focusing on another fact: Iran may be closer to profound political change than at any time since the revolution that ousted the shah 30 years ago…. Outsiders should act to strengthen the opposition and to deepen rifts among the rulers. This process is underway, and while it will take time, it promises the first good chance in decades to bring about an Iran that, even if less than a model country, would nonetheless act considerably better at home and abroad. Even a realist should recognize that it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

If some in the realist camp, like Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt, were appalled by Haass’ conversion, the neoconservatives welcomed it. “I hope his many minions will follow his lead,” says Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who worked in the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration. “And that the disruptions they’ve caused in preventing us from creating an effective Iran policy will end as will their fantasy that Iran is a regime like any other.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 3, 2010 2:52 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus