The Current Futility Of Engagement

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 2, 2009

At some point in time, it may be possible for the United States and Iran to deal with one another. But Roger Cohen–whose views on Iran, it is worth re-emphasizing, have radically changed–points out that now is not that time:

. . . Khamenei and Ahmadinejad may begin to unclench their fist, as isolation and sullen defiance grow, in a bid to deliver what they would not allow the reformists to initiate: détente with America.

Obama must leave them dangling for the foreseeable future. He should refrain indefinitely from talk of engagement.

To do otherwise would be to betray millions of Iranians who have been defrauded and have risked their lives to have their votes count. To do otherwise would be to allow Khamenei to gloat that, in the end, what the United States respects is force. To do otherwise would be to embrace the usurpers.

The slow arc of moral justice is fine but Iran is gripped by the fierce urgency of now. Obama, the realist on whom idealism is projected, is obliged to make a course correction.

I say all this with a heavy heart. Non-communication between America and Iran is bad for both countries and the world. It complicates and undermines every U.S. objective from Gaza to Afghanistan. It’s dangerous and it’s unnecessary.

I’ve argued strongly for engagement with Iran as a game-changer. America renewed relations with the Soviet Union at the time of the Great Terror and China at the time of the Cultural Revolution. Operation Jackboot has not, as yet at least, involved mass killings.

But the Iran of today is not the Iran of three weeks ago; it is in volatile flux from without and within. Its Robespierres are running amok. Obama must do nothing to suggest business as usual. Let Ahmadinejad, he of the bipolar mood swings, fret and sweat. Let him writhe in the turbid puddle of his self-proclaimed “justice” and “ethics.”

Of course, the Iran of three weeks ago was never the Iran Cohen thought it was. The current conflict in Iran may have finally bubbled to the surface, but all of the underlying causes of that conflict were there for a long time.

Let us note anew that in addition to Cohen’s human rights concerns, there are realpolitik-based reasons as well why Iran cannot now be engaged. And let us note anew that despite the opportunity to create serious fissures and splits in the Islamic regime, fissures and splits that will help the United States in any future negotiations, the Obama Administration is doing nothing to obtain a negotiating advantage for the United States in the long term when it comes to dealings with Iran.

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