Here is a summary of a 2004 article by Ray Takeyh and Nikolas Gvosdev about the challenges of creating a U.S. policy for Iran. Should we support democracy in Iran when the result is not what we would have hoped? Can we work with a government that sponsors terrorism? Should we negotiate with them?
Thesis: Iran poses many challenges for the US, geopolitical, nuclear aspirations, unsavory terrorists’ alliances and strategic significance. A consistent view in Washington is that regime change will only bring about a satisfactory resolution to these challenges. On the other hand, dialogue and negotiations with the Iranian officials may be in the interest of the US. Iranian hardliners use their positions within the judiciary and other bodies to roll back advances made of Iranian reformers and society; however, there may be another group in which the US can work with – this group is the Pragmatic Conservatives.
• Conservative forces in Iran proclaim their loyalty to “Islamic and revolutionary values”. The massive projection of US power along Iran’s periphery has strengthened the position of a cadre of pragmatic conservatives seeking practical solutions to Iran’s increasingly dire situation. This new group seeks to restructure Iran’s domestic priorities and international relations. This presents US with paradox: uphold democratic values, but can be assured Iran will work against US interest – or – overlook democratic deficiencies and work with existing gov’t to reach compromise on issues.
• Iran’s elected institutions are supposed to function in harmony with the religious rulers; however, there often seems to be an embedded contradiction. Reformers that were elected in 1997 had to tread carefully in sweeping reforms or risk overruling by higher clerical bodies. This point is often overlooked by US policymakers. In the 2004 election, hard-liners blocked out reformers by using their influence with the Guardian Council (clerics) to prevent more than 2300 reformists’ candidates from running for office.
• The constant struggle has facilitated the rise of a pragmatic conservative wing. If reformers were compared to Gorbachev – then the pragmatic conservative resembles China’s Deng Xiaoping. They recognize the need for pragmatic policy adjustments to ensure the survival of the regime. Specifically the “China Model” is often referenced for economic purposes. China’s ability to normalize relations with US without undergoing any regime change has much appeal to this group in Iran. Pragmatic conservatives are flexible in domestic and foreign policy matters.
• Pragmatic Conservative view of the following issues:
o Defusing Nuclear Tensions: They see the Nuclear weapons as deterrence to two issues – Sadamm Hussein’s Iraq and US encirclement. Now that the threat from Iraq has gone, there may be room negotiate as defiance of the international community would not serve Iran’s interests.
o Stabilizing Iraq: Iran’s greatest fear is an Iraq that will serve as an agent of US power. Pragmatic conservatives and clerics support the development of a pluralistic decentralized gov’t in Iraq.
o Abandoning Peace Process Spoilers: The Pragmatic conservatives have made it clear that they would treat the war on terror as a tactical matter and would take part in anti-terrorism efforts to a degree.
• Pragmatic conservatives are well aware that the current state of US-Iranian relations inhibits Iran’s economic development, as international investors are not comfortable sending capital to Iran. They are prepared to make a tactical compromise in return for obtaining a non aggression and noninterference guarantee from the US. Iran faces an economic crisis in its future that may precipitate an overthrow of the current regime, if positive steps are not seen.
• The US should be prepared to take positive steps in this regard. Washington holds all the cards as it has military forces stationed all around Iran’s periphery. The process is unlikely to gain momentum until the US and Iranian presidential elections are complete. – This opportunity should not be squandered by the US.