Friday, August 28, 2009

Here's Your Story: No Engagement Game Because Iran Burned Down

 By Barry Rubin

Gerald Seib’s article in the Wall Street Journal is worth responding to because it symbolizes the curious mentality about Iran prevailing in American policymaking and opinion-making circles. The article is entitled, "Iran Collapse Complicates U.S. Moves."

On the contrary! I think it makes things much simpler and clearer.

But first a story told to me many years ago by famed radio host Barry Farber:

A reporter is dispatched to cover a high school basketball game but doesn’t file a story. As deadline approaches the editor irritably calls the journalist into his office and asks where is the story?

“There isn’t any story,” says the reporter.

“Why not?” asks the editor.

“There wasn’t any game,” the journalist replies.

“Why not?” asks the editor.

“The gym burned down.”

For those of you who are journalists with certain mass media outlets, I should explain the point of the anecdote: The gym burning down was the story.

Now back to Seib.

He explains there is an alleged irony in the fact that, “America's most vexing enemy is plagued by growing internal dissension, a vocal opposition movement that won't die and a crisis of legitimacy.”

What is it?

“The upheaval there actually is making the job of crafting an American strategy more difficult.”


Because, you see, it is harder to engage Iran when it is so busy with domestic matters and in disarray. I’ve heard this from others in Washington as well. And Seib gives us the likely Obama administration conclusion:

“And here's the most likely outcome: The U.S. will leave the door open to engagement with Iran, but won't be trying as hard as before to coax the Iranians into walking through it.”

Well, why are we even talking about this? It is time for a new view of Iran and U.S. policy. Memo to Obama: The situation has changed big-time.

Why engage a country where the most extreme of the extreme have seized power and anyone prepared to make compromises has been kicked out or put on trial (not that they were so moderate either)? There can be no illusion--which Obama himself said he believed--that while the president of Iran is a loudmouth the spiritual guide is a secret moderate.

Why engage a country which has ignored every effort to do so and has gone full speed ahead on nuclear weapons?

Why engage a regime which has just appointed a wanted terrorist involved in killing Americans as its defense minister, who will have control over nuclear weapons?

Why engage a country whose ambitions are clearly regional hegemony and is making gains in that direction precisely because of perceived U.S. weakness?

What the United States needs now is not an engagement policy or even a sanctions' plan (though that is a part of it) but a strategy to compete with Iran and its allies throughout the region and defeat their ambitions. (Just because George W. Bush thought that way does not mean it's wrong, a concept it is vital for the Obama administration to grasp.)

What comes next? The United States gets increased sanctions in September and the regime ignores or circumvents them. Iran goes further and further down the road to nuclear weapons and in implementing its regional ambitions.

It is time for the debate to get beyond engagement. Of course, there’s a reason that isn’t happening: because then the problem of what to do and its costs becomes more serious and expensive and dangerous.

But that debate better begin.

I’ve got news for you. There is a story: Iran burned down.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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