Our Irrational Iran Policy

The conceit that Iran poses a threat to the United States is as widely shared in Washington as it is untrue.

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Michael Hirsh frames the failure of U.S. Iran policy this way:

After more than two decades of failed policies – fluctuating wildly between confrontation and cooperation – Washington and the West still find themselves facing down a hostile Iran.

US policy has not been “fluctuating wildly between confrontation and cooperation” over the last twenty years. Since the turn of the century, there have been two brief periods of limited U.S.-Iranian cooperation: a very short time following the 9/11 attacks when Iran was willing to work the US in the early stages of the war in Afghanistan, and a slightly longer period between the conclusion of the interim nuclear agreement in 2013 and the end of Obama’s presidency in 2017. The US didn’t renege on the nuclear deal until 2018, but Trump’s election had already signaled the return of reflexive hostility. Even during the Obama years, cooperation was limited to the nuclear issue, and that happened in the context of overall hostility and arming Iran’s regional rivals to the teeth. Except for those small windows of engagement, US policy towards Iran has been defined entirely by hostility and punitive measures, and when there was some engagement it was always overwhelmed by reflexive antipathy.

The nuclear deal was a remarkable breakthrough in relations on one level, but on another it had no real effect on how our government perceived theirs or vice versa. The US has followed the hawkish playbook of condemnation, sanctions, and threats for twenty years, and it has served to ratchet up tensions and bring the US and Iran to the brink of war. The confrontational approach is clearly bankrupt, but there are too many people with vested interests in confrontation for it to change in the foreseeable future.

The attempts at cooperation were few, tentative, and narrowly focused on one issue at a time. There was never a time when the US was broadly pursuing cooperation with Iran. To the extent that the US tried cooperation, it ended up with something to show for its efforts, but hardliners on our side kept sabotaging engagement and destroyed whatever gains had been made. Limited policies of cooperation did not fail in achieving something useful for the US, but they were killed off anyway. Policies of confrontation have repeatedly led to worse results for the US, Iran, and the region, but they remain firmly in place to this day. Biden’s decision to continue Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions is the latest example of the latter.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

6 thoughts on “Our Irrational Iran Policy”

  1. Daniel doesn’t mention that humongous elephant in the room. Israel. There.

    1. An article about the Iran nuclear issue that doesn’t mention Israel isn’t worth reading. You have to wonder at Larison’s ignorance of this.

  2. Never ever mention the Middle East most active Terrorist State ISRAHELL !!!

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