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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