Steven Cook: What the neocons got right on Iran

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations has written an interesting piece in Foreign Policy titled “What the Neocons Got Right.” Toward the end of the article, Cook argues that the neoconservative’s worldview of the Iranian regime has largely proven correct. Cook writes:

It’s hard to sign up with the folks who seem all too willing to bomb Iran, but like Syria, the neoconservatives have a well-grounded view of the Iranian regime. George H.W. Bush tried engagement (remember “Goodwill begets goodwill” in his inaugural address?), so did Bill Clinton, and now Barack Obama has offered a hand to the clerical regime.

Yet all three presidents have very little to show for their efforts. Why? Did they not engage enough? Did Bush, Clinton, and Obama engage incorrectly? Unlikely. Rather, one needs to look at the ontology — yes, ontology, the metaphysical nature — of the Iranian regime. The Islamic Republic was founded in many ways on opposition to the West, and in particular, the United States. A good portion of Iran’s revolutionary narrative identifies the United States’ perfidy in undermining the aspirations and identity of the Iranian people. The litany of Tehran’s complaints against Washington is long. This is precisely why the Iranian leadership cannot make a deal with the United States. To do so would undermine the reason for the revolution and the Iranian leadership’s own reason for being. The neoconservatives seem to have innately understood — perhaps for different reasons — that the Iranians were quite unlikely to respond to U.S. overtures. This doesn’t mean that engagement is bad everywhere, even when it comes to Iran. The Obama administration may have been too sanguine about its ability to sway Iran’s leadership, but the policy does serve an important purpose. Engagement demonstrates that, unlike with the run-up to the Iraq war, Washington is willing to exhaust every possible avenue to resolve its differences with Tehran before taking more punitive steps such as sanctions or even military action.

For more commentary on the revolutionary nature of both Iran’s recent history and its political structure, read Robert Baer’s The Devil We Know. Baer does a succinct job of arguing that much of Iran’s political success is rooted in its anti-imperial rhetoric. Nations that have suffered from colonialism are attracted to Iran’s defiance in standing up against the West’s perceived “oppression.”

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  • KW64 says:

    When the public face of a regime is constantly inciting groups to chant “death to America” it is naive to think a relationship change will come before regime change.

  • John says:

    perceived “oppression.”
    Propping up a brutal dictator is perceived oppression. First rule of propaganda is don’t believe your own propaganda.
    Bush’s hardline approach hasn’t worked either. And
    the neocons were right on Iraq too, they just got timeline and cost, wrong.
    This guy thinks Iraq is too early to call, but he can see signs of democracy spreading and anyone who can’t see these signs, which he alone can see is a political partisan. Delusional.

  • Civy says:

    Very insightful. Sometimes the most difficult thing to grasp is the obvious – thus the old nut about fish being ignorant of water.
    The real tragedy of the unnecessary war in Iraq may well turn out to be that it squandered the American people’s resolve to fight on the wrong enemy.
    One can only wonder how much better off we might be if we had supported Saddam in a proxy war against Iran and then executed a regime change.
    When you look at things deeply, it’s hard to find much to admire about either the objectives or methods of the Bush Administration. Witness the failure of the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine as still another failure. Both Nixon and Reagan were so much more accomplished – especially in foreign affairs.

  • Bungo says:

    I find this subject of how the U.S. should deal with dictators (beligerant or otherwise) quite interesting. If you think about it, the U.S. can’t “win” no matter what. If the U.S. is peceived as “propping up” a dictatorship they’re “bad” and if they overthrow a dictaorship militarily they will also be called “bad”. Think Panama and Iraq just to name two recent examples. You see what I’m saying? You can’t win with some people either way! And the use of the term “propping up” has become virtually undefinable. Is it as simple as recognizing their existance? Is it doing any international business with them? Is it having an Embassy there? You see what I’m saying? To some it’s merely the act of not doing anything against a Dictatorship that can eventually be spun as “propping up”.
    The truth is that there are many more “Dictatorships” in the world than there are Democracies. Is the U.S’ recognition of them in the context of the U.N. mean they approve of them? Does the fact that the U.S. does not immediately invade each of these nations and install a Democratic government in them mean that they’re “propping them up”. Of course not. That would be absurd. But there are some who will use this argument every chance they get.
    The other thing that get’s in my craw is the thought that negotiation with any intrenched Dictatorship can somehow achieve anything substantial or tangible. For the life of me I can’t think of one example. It’s just not going to happen. It is EXTREMELY difficult to produce any change to an intrenched, totalitarian Dictaorship without the use of force. Change will ONLY come from a revolution or an invasion. When the Allies were at war with Germany the Dictatorship held until the Russians were about a half mile from Hitler’s bunker. How’s that for hard-headedness. You could say the same thing for Panama or Iraq.
    Negotiating with Iran or North Korea will produce NO sgnificant change. You can take that to the bank. None of these regimes (including China, Syria etc.) will EVER relinquish ANY of their totalitarian control (or the pusuit of nuclear weapons) without a revolution or a complete military defeat.

  • KnightHawk says:

    “You can’t win with some people either way!”

    So the US should stop trying and stop apologizing.

  • Ghost says:

    How was the neo-con perception of the Iranian government “proved correct?” That statement implies that there was a group that disagreed with the neo-con assertion, when in fact, that isn’t true. Did any group ever say “the neo-cons are wrong, the Iranian government is friendly or innocent?” or anything to that effect? That’s hardly the case. The author either confuses disagreement over tactics with strategic concepts.


Islamic state



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Boko Haram