Remembering Our End Goals in Iran


Last week’s controversial uranium enrichment agreement among Iran, Turkey and Brazil, along with the subsequent decision from the P5+1 countries to push forward with sanctions, throws into stark relief the tendency for the U.S. and Iran to talk past each other, as the possibility for constructive dialogue slips further and further away.
In this context Georgetown University Professor and Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Charles Kupchan’s article from last month’s Foreign Affairs, “Enemies into Friends,” continues to be relevant. Based on his new book expanding on this theme, Kupchan writes that sustained diplomatic dialogue on a series of issues, large and small, can over time settle complicated issues between rivals and adversaries.
He writes:

Iran and North Korea, because of their nuclear programs, are particularly tough cases. Washington is justifiably intent on neutralizing the nuclear threats they pose. But both countries appear unwilling to give up their nuclear programs, which they deem necessary to maintain their security and bargaining leverage. The tightening of sanctions could help change the political calculus in Tehran and Pyongyang. Nonetheless, the logic of incrementalism would suggest that Washington should also pursue negotiations on a set of broader issues to help build the levels of mutual confidence needed to tackle the nuclear question. With Tehran, the United States could seek cooperation on Afghanistan, particularly on curbing the drug trade there, which flows into Iran. Washington could also discuss with Tehran the potential for a new security architecture in the Persian Gulf, which is of particular importance as U.S. forces prepare to exit Iraq. With Pyongyang, a dialogue on economic assistance, energy supplies, and the normalization of relations may help clear the way for a deal on North Korea’s nuclear program.

Kupchan is right to point out that breakthroughs with hostile countries often occur not as a result of threats or harsh measures alone, but as part of an ongoing and sometimes halting process that utilizes both carrots and sticks to advance our end goal, which in this case is a reduction of the nuclear threat from Iran.
Kupchan will be at the New America Foundation tomorrow for a discussion of his new book (RSVP here). The event will run from 12:15 pm-1:45 pm, and will also be webcast here at The Washington Note.
— Andrew Lebovich


20 comments on “Remembering Our End Goals in Iran

  1. Carroll says:

    An enemy a day means Israel will eventually go away. What absolute idiots. US zionist are wasting their money(and ours) trying to save Israel….Israel never misses an opportunity to create more enemies.
    Finnish travel agent humiliated after admitting that her fianc


  2. erichwwk says:

    oops-… liked “his” depiction, view


  3. jonst says:

    It is a minor point, but perhaps telling. Kupchan calls for us to engage in some kind of measures to slow the flow of drugs into Iran.
    HELLO!! We can’t stop the flow of drugs into WASHINGTON DC DUDE!
    I could give a damn less whether Iran has nuclear weapons or not. Recall what Don Corleone said in the novel, not the movie, the Godfather. When asked to help someone cheat death from old age, the Don replied, “I can’t bring back the death, only kill the living’. Well, paraphrasing him, ‘I can’t do much to stop nations from attaining nuclear weapons capability…..I can only destroy the given nation in question if it use them on me or my allies.’
    Come home American. Come home and focus on the problems of the Republic while you still have a Republic. Leave the Jews, and Arabs to their fate.


  4. erichwwk says:

    Thanks, Paul for the link to Leslie Gelb’s take.
    I especially liked her depiction that:
    “In private, they lift their eyes toward the ceiling when the Americans and Israelis levitate about an Iranian nuclear weapon.”
    Hopefully her view will be acknowledged in future US nuclear policy before it too digs us into a deeper hole. Is there more to the current US nuclear policy than wishful thinking and a desire to placate those wishing to milk the US nuclear weapons cash cow for all it can? Is it really possible that US nuclear weapons pundits believe nuclear apartheid and US military dominance can be maintained?
    J. Sri Raman has a similar take, that the attempt of the US to paint the “international community” as more than US coerced allies is over, in the context of the NPT review:


  5. kotzabasis says:

    I apologise to Steve for giving him a non-deserved pleasure. It was a Freudian slip. In the first paragraph should be Lebovich’s name not Clemons.


  6. kotzabasis says:

    One can trace a masochistic pleasure in Clemons. He often has a craving to replace facts with fictional occurrences to his detriment, like in this case


  7. nadine says:

    The list of the unthreatened by Iran does not include Egypt, Kuwait or Bahrain, who have all arrested Hizbullah cells inside their borders. It certainly does not include Saudi Arabia, which is uniquely threatened and is demanding the US do something in language never before heard from Saudi diplomats.
    Iran doesn’t need to set off any bombs to use them to throw its weight around. They are watching what happens to North Korea now. If North Korea can sink a South Korean warship unprovoked, and have have nothing bad happen to them in response, well, Iran can read that lesson well enough. Iran has its eye on Saudi Arabia’s (Shia) Eastern Provinces already. That’s where all the Saudi oil is, btw.
    Earth to Obama: you have been sized up and found wanting. This is that ‘test’ Joe Biden was talking about. You better sit up and project some strength, somewhere, or the world is about to become a MUCH more dangerous place.
    And that’s assuming the Iranians are rational actors, not religious fanatics who want to pave the way for the Mahdi’s coming with the wars of the End Times. The double agent who just wrote A Time to Betray says they really are religious fanatics.


  8. JohnH says:

    “Many, if not most, nations around the world simply do not feel anywhere near as threatened by Iran (or North Korea for that matter) as do the United States, Western Europe, Israel and other American allies. In private, they lift their eyes toward the ceiling when the Americans and Israelis levitate about an Iranian nuclear weapon.”
    Exactly. And many, if not most, nations around the world must be bemused and bewildered by the ham fisted way that the US and Israel choose to pursue their attempts at hegemony, first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, now in Iran. It’s as if the Global Cop has turned into the Keystone Cops.
    And many, if not most, nations are glad to see the US direct its massive destructive capabilities at someone else, anyone else. If the US is going to engage in pointless, counter-productive wars, all nations prefer not to be the target of such ill-conceived ventures.


  9. WigWag says:

    As a matter of fact, Paul, speaking of nattily attired foreign policy experts, maybe the always fastidious duo of Clemons and Kupchan could give some fashion advise to the two gentlemen whose photograph adorns the top of this post.
    Lula looks like an undertaker who is too cheap to buy a new suit even though the one he is wearing is three sizes too small.
    Ahmadinejad looks like a waiter in a cheap diner who spits in your soup if you have the nerve to send it back because you found a dead cockroach floating in the broth.
    I’m quite sure that if we assigned Kupchan and Clemons to the task, they would have both of these world leaders looking fine in no time.
    As for fixing their politics, well Clemons and Kupchan might have to work a little harder on that.


  10. Paul Norheim says:

    Leslie Gelb has a different take on this topic at The Daily Beast. I
    don’t agree with everything he says, but here is an excerpt:
    “But the driving factors behind this diplomatic drama have
    barely been touched by analysts. In the first place, many, if not
    most, nations around the world simply do not feel anywhere
    near as threatened by Iran (or North Korea for that matter) as do
    the United States, Western Europe, Israel and other American
    allies. In private, they lift their eyes toward the ceiling when the
    Americans and Israelis levitate about an Iranian nuclear weapon.
    They just don’t believe Tehran would be stupid or self-
    destructive enough to launch a nuclear attack. You can even
    include China in this group.
    Meantime, the high-stakes diplomacy of Brazil and Turkey
    shows that the good old days of most nations automatically
    supporting U.S. non-proliferation efforts is over. These
    countries have their own foreign-policy and business interests,
    and will be less and less inclined to deny their own interests or
    follow what they see as Washington’s self-contradictory and
    self-serving actions. Here’s what they see:


  11. Paul Norheim says:

    Sorry for being unclear in my last post: The “method” at Slates
    that I referred to is to estimate your relative political or
    ideological bias based on your recent internet habits.
    There is an interesting comment on this at TPM cafe right now,
    and there was also a interesting reflection in a NYT op ed
    recently, linked to at TPM.


  12. Paul Norheim says:

    Thanks for an excellent reply, WigWag.
    BTW, if you want to find out how biased you really are, click on
    the link I provided in my last comment on the thread titled
    “What will the world look like in 100 years”.
    It’s very easy: just one click on a button inside the article. Very
    unscientific, but entertaining – if life is boring in Florida right
    My “isolation index” was -48, “meaning that, on the bell curve
    of all readers, your news diet is 48 percentage points to the
    Of course, my visiting habits also include a lot of non-English
    sites, and the results also seems to only include your visits
    during the last day or so. For you, or for Steve and other
    Americans, the results could be slightly more accurate than in
    my case.
    Give it a try. My guess is that your complex political views and
    your internet habits don’t match each other.


  13. WigWag says:

    Paul, it seemed to me that this post was as much about Kupchan’s new book and his lecture tomorrow at the “New America Foundation” as it was about Iran.
    I actually find Kupchan interesting and I like him (as much as you can like someone that you don’t know); in fact I find him to be an interesting fellow in the same way that I find Steve Clemons an interesting fellow. It seems to me that Kupchan and Clemons have four things in common: they’re both quite smart; they’re both extremely natty dressers; in their writing and talks they both come across as kind-hearted and they are both wrong far more often than they are right (in my opinion, of course).
    I stand corrected; making a dreadful mistake about Kosovo doesn’t invalidate everything that Kupchan has to say on every other subject but I don’t think it


  14. Paul Norheim says:

    WigWag, isn’t this like asking: if you got it so spectacularly
    wrong on Japan in 2004, how can we trust anything you say
    now about Canada?
    Do you know anyone who’s been involved in foreign policy
    issues for some time who hasn’t got it wrong on one or several
    Secondly: why speak about “trust” – as if this was a matter of
    blindly accepting an argument on issue X because the person
    who delivers it once got it right on issue Y?
    If you insist on bombing Iran, why don’t you make your case
    instead of discrediting someone on an unrelated issue? If you
    do so, I promise not to hold against you the fact that you last
    week got it spectacularly wrong when you claimed that racism is
    skyrocketing in Norway.


  15. JohnH says:

    Love the headline–“Remembering Our End Goals in Iran.” A fine thing to commemorate for Memorial Day. But pray tell, what would those end goals be? I’ve been asking about US goals in Iran for years. Seems no one is willing to venture a guess!?! (Just like those ever elusive “end goals” in Iraq and in Afghanistan.)
    Maybe Lebovich could finally write a guest commentary that would clearly spell things out. This would be a gigantic contribution. For as the Great Yogi said, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there…”
    Once goals for Iran have been established, then the US could perhaps define a rational strategy?!? BTW let’s not drag Iran’s nuclear program into it. That program is only the latest incarnation of the “demonize Iran” narrative that has been going on for 30 years. Like WMDs in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear energy program is merely the public framing of some deeper bone of contention between the US and Iran.
    Maybe Lebovich could for once talk about the real issues, like control over Iranian energy resources and hegemony in the Persian Gulf.
    And Lebovich should not leave out the nefarious influence of the Israeli lobby, which has conjured up their existential threat du jour, which they demand be eliminated, using somebody else’s money and somebody else’ kids.


  16. nadine says:

    “Kupchan is right to point out that breakthroughs with hostile countries often occur not as a result of threats or harsh measures alone, but as part of an ongoing and sometimes halting process that utilizes both carrots and sticks to advance our end goal, which in this case is a reduction of the nuclear threat from Iran.” (Steve Clemons)
    Breakthroughs often occur, hm? Please give an example. North Korea, maybe?


  17. ... says:

    david, character assassination is the name of the game for those who offer ideas that are a direct challenge to what the israel lobby would like to acheive – war at any cost with iran… it would appear iraq repeat part 2 with the lobby always working towards the goal of war, with the help of its internet minions of course..
    what is the usa’s end goal with regard to anything at this point? they have lost their rudder a long time ago and can’t seem to find a replacement…


  18. hass says:

    That’s very nice. But the fact remains that the pro-israel lobby wants to push this country into another disaster war for the sake of Israel, and Obama doesn’t have what it takes to stand up to them. So, moot point.


  19. David says:

    Hard for me to imagine either the Republican Party, conservative-leaning Democrats, or the voting public to endorse such a rational approach. Of the three, I guess the general public, should it be subjected to comprehensive discussion of these ideas, has the best chance of responding to and embracing these ideas. I don’t care who the author of the ideas is. I do care about whether or not they are helpful ideas, and real diplomatic engagement is a must in the world in which we now find ourselves.


  20. WigWag says:

    The problem is that Kupchan is wrong more often than he’s right.
    Since 2005 he’s been one of the main cheerleaders for the independence of Kosovo.
    What has that accomplished for the United States other than poking a stick in the eye of the Russians over an issue that is almost completely inconsequential?
    Has Kosovo achieved international legitimacy? As of yesterday, 69 out of 192 (36%) United Nations member states have formally recognized the Republic of Kosovo. States rejecting independence for Kosovo include: Russia, China, India, Pakistan and scores more. A significant majority (but not all) Muslim majority nations reject independence for their co-religionists in the Balkans.
    Has the situation in the Balkans been made better or worse by the fact that the Europeans and Americans took Kupchan’s advice and granted Kosovo recognition?
    Are NATO troops any closer to being withdrawn from Kosovo? Is Kosovo any closer to abandoning its status as a ward of the United Nations? Does Kosovo have anything close to a self-sustaining economy? Have Kosovo and Serbia made any progress at all in resolving their border disputes? Are the Kosovars any closer to achieving control over their Northern, Serb dominated provinces?
    Has the government of Kosovo made any progress in conquering the organized crime mobs that control virtually every aspect of the Kosovar economy and is amply represented throughout its legislative and judicial bodies?
    This post invites a very simple question. If Kupchan got it so spectacularly wrong on Kosovo, why should we trust anything else he has to say?


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