U.S. policy toward Iran is a classic case of the decline of U.S. governance, illustrating the short-sighted, illogical, elite-oriented, self-defeating nature of contemporary U.S. policy-making. The issue is not Iran; the issue is the ability of the U.S. ruling elite to make rational policy decisions of long-term benefit to U.S. society.
Iran is fully the equal of the U.S….at rhetoric. As long as Washington insists on fighting a childish war of words, at best it will look like a spoiled child. Washington will not win a war of words with Tehran. When Washington uses its power to slap Iran down for refusing to kneel, then Washington looks like a bully. Even if Washington achieves an Iraq-style regime change in Iran, such a “victory” will, as with Iraq, be Pyrrhic. Thus, Washington will not truly win a war designed to bully Iran into submission either. Washington’s pathetic bowing to Likudniks combined with its narrow-minded, short-sighted, self-defeating bias in favor of brute force (e.g., committing or tolerating economic warfare, terrorist attacks on Iranian scientists) is demeaning for the world’s leader while simultaneously not just ineffective but counter-productive policy toward Iran or any other state determined to stand independent of Washington’s control. Washington is making Iran look heroic and making itself look discriminatory and confused.
For Washington to be conducting such a thoughtless foreign policy at a time of blatant domestic corruption and a full-scale domestic elite attack on the economic security of the American people is not just outrageous but once again short-term thinking: eating the goose that lays the golden eggs. Does the elite think it can endlessly conduct war simultaneously against both the Islamic world and the American people without serious consequences for the power and national security of the U.S.?
Offering Iran a positive-sum outcome while balancing the budget by cutting military adventures would be a more consistent approach and would better serve the long-term interests of U.S. society. Inducing Iranian cooperation via a policy designed to benefit both sides has a double advantage for the U.S.: inducing cooperation is easier and cheaper than forcing submission and many benefits would accrue to the U.S. from U.S.-Iranian cooperation. Bringing stability to an Afghanistan from which the U.S. is in any case retreating, minimizing the global illegal narcotics trade, lowering tensions in the Persian Gulf, and moving toward a regional nuclear regime focused on transparency and mutual security without nuclear brinkmanship are among the key potential benefits that U.S.-Iranian cooperation could bring to both sides. U.S. retreats from both Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate that the U.S. is not succeeding in controlling the region; given that reality, compromise trumps further U.S. defeats.
Along with these foreign policy benefits to the U.S. that would flow from U.S.-Iranian cooperation are the domestic financial benefits from restoring a healthier balance between funding economic growth and supporting social needs rather than wasting resources trying to build empire or just defend the country against hostility we provoke by our own heavy-handed behavior. Money spent to reopen closed air control towers and to provide lunches for deprived school children at home will contribute far more to long-term U.S. national security than money spent to fight enemies whose hostility we provoked by telling them how to live.