Iran Policy Options Part VII

[Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI]

Both the Gulf War II (Option 1) and Collapsing Iran (Option 2) options would demonstrate strong US commitment to uphold the NPT and zero tolerance for nuclear weapons. A successful military campaign against Tehran would dispel any doubt worldwide about US resolve, US power and the ability of rogue states to defy the international community indefinitely. Option 1 would be especially powerful as it would show that despite lingering discontent about the invasion of Iraq, the West is willing to work together on and tackle serious threats. Collapsing Iran would also potentially break the country into several pieces or instigate regime change ending it both a regional power and threat. However, there are risks inherent in any military option. Building a coalition, as in Option 1 could be very difficult given mistrust of US intentions and an unwillingness to engage in military action after Iraq. The fact China would be difficult to convince and Russia near impossible make building a solid coalition harder and a UNSC mandate unlikely. But of the two options, Option 1 would incur the lowest political costs and have more legitimacy both abroad and potentially with Iranians themselves.

Containment (Option 3) would need to walk a fine line between inflicting the highest possible costs on Iran without igniting war. There is considerable leverage to be had over Iran, especially its energy sector, but energy is a double edged sword. While the current financial crisis has significantly lowered the price of oil, taking Iran’s oil and gas offline would raise prices and a lack of spare capacity means it would be difficult to offset potentially drastic price jumps. Containment could harden Iranian resolve and push them towards an all or none mindset leaving only war or acceptance as options. While Iran may eventually cave in, or its regime change, containment still risks isolating Iran without eliminating its nuclear program. It would also exacerbate its security concerns reinforcing the need for nuclear weapons. Yet, the two military options would do the same.
Options 1, 2 and 3 would also not address Iran’s aspirations as a regional power nor for prestige.

A Grand Bargain (Option 4), would address the combination of Iranian motivations for nuclear weapons as part of a larger agreement between the US and Iran. By recognizing the government, establishing ties and not using military force, Iran’s security concerns should be alleviated while it would simultaneously save face,having stood up against the West and come out with something, albeit not nuclear weapons. A Grand Bargain could accomplish all US objectives were both parties truly committed to it. Yet, diplomacy has not worked with some countries such North Korea and containment, coercion and sanctions have worked with others like Libya.

Option 4 also risks legitimizing the ruling regime and turning Iranian public opinion against the West. Even if the US negotiated in good faith, Iran may still decide to acquire nuclear weapons and use the process as political cover to achieve its goals. This could seriously undermine the West’s credibility and military deterrent as well as leave an aggressive nuclear armed Iranian regime. This option risks all or none, either successful elimination of the program or Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons. Options 1 and 2 could substantially cripple the program, setting it back many years but not prevent its future reconstitution. Containment could swing either way and offers a flexible policy but uncertain timeline for success.

Recommendation: Option 4 a “Grand Bargain” is recommended.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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11 Responses to Iran Policy Options Part VII

  1. Just An Australian says:

    phew. Somehow I feel relieved that you recommended option #4. It’s certainly the lowest risk – though it seems more likely to be successful if there’s other posturing along the lines of #1 and #2. I thought that was the game with Iraq, though, and in that case it turned out that #4 was the posturing and #1 was the game plan.

  2. Oliver says:

    Can the US offer Iran enough? It seems doubtful to me that Iran would settle for less than regional dominance in the Persian Gulf.

  3. Ralph Hitchens says:

    There is entirely too much obsession with the alleged “Iran problem” in US policy circles. (Look how many column-inches you’ve wasted!) The Iranian masses are distinctly pro-Western, the clerics are barely able to keep the lid on the political process, and the most noteworthy feature of the clerical leadership is how cautious and conservative they are in the international realm. Ahmenwhateverijad is not the face and voice of the Iranian people; he’s maybe #17 in the decision-making hierarchy, on a good day.

    This is a big nada, something we seriously need to get over.

  4. Oliver says:

    What do Iranian masses matter? Should they determine a government it will be nationlistic.

  5. von Kaufman-Turkestansky says:

    Just an Australian – Chirol is not National Security Advisor just yet! Although who knows, maybe one day…

  6. Chirol says:

    Ralph: I have a hard time taking your comments seriously. People have been predicting the end of Iran and North Korea for decades. On top of that, what evidence do you have the Iranians are pro-Western, and what does that even mean? Does it mean they want more freedom in their political system, do they want us to bomb them? Are they Pro US, pro Europe. Define “pro-west” and back it up with evidence.

    On top of that, Iran is a major security challenge in the region, is a player in Iraq and Afghanistan if you haven’t noticed and is a major proliferation risk. If you think Iran is an overblown threat then I recommend moving to Iceland or Svalbad where that may be true. In the rest of the world, it isn’t.

  7. ron patterson says:

    Prior to the invasion of Afghistan Iranian intelligence aided the American and N.A.T.O. forces. with valuable millitary information on the Taliban and Al-Queda. They fear a sunni fundamentalist state in Afghanistan. They would be a welcome balance to the Sunni’s in Pakistan and help stop the spread of Wahabiasm. Iran would also be useful in helping to stabilize Iraq. Who would the Iranians proliferate to. Pakistan and India already haave the bomb.

  8. Ralph Hitchens says:

    Chirol, more than a decade ago I sat in on a classified conference at the Pentagon on US force posture in the Gulf region. (I represented the Dept. of Energy Intelligence office.) A highly-regarded Middle East expert whose name I will recall any minute now made a memorable comment while urging US restraint. The Iranian clerics, he said, were far less concerned with our naval presence in the Gulf than they were about how to keep out Beavis and Butthead. (Remember them?) Read any Western reporter who spends time in Iran; they all say pretty much the same thing. The Iranian people don’t want confrontation with the US & the West, they yearn for engagement.

    I’m not so much “predicting the end” of Iran as postulating its relative insignificance. It’s an annoyance, nothing more. I don’t think Iran is a major security threat in the region. The Shi’ias of Iraq, having gotten out from under the thumb of the Ba’ath tyranny, are hardly likely to throw themselves into the arms of their Iranian brothers. True, the Iranians have ties to the non-Taliban warlords in eastern Afghanistan, but this has been the case since the Soviet War and hardly constitutes assertive hegemony.

  9. Ralph Hitchens says:

    Asleep at the switch! I meant “western Afghanistan!”

  10. Just An Australian says:

    You know, there’s another option you didn’t canvas. I think it’s highly immoral, but I reckon it’d be very effective: let the SOFA fall through, and withdraw from Iraq pre-christmas.

    Then let the Iranians get bogged down in Iraq instead, and do what is required to ensure that they get stuck there (pay the favor back).

  11. Oliver says:

    What will the current oil price do to Iran?