September 23, 2010

Iran’s Foreign Policy Blunders

Washington, DC – “Iran’s leaders have [conducted] an exercise in how to ruin a country’s foreign policy,” explained Dr. Shireen Hunter, director of the Islamic Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Speaking at Georgetown University this past Thursday to promote her new book, Iran’s Foreign Policy in the Post-Soviet Era., Dr. Hunter had harsh criticism for Iran’s foreign policymakers and openly questioned the current trajectory of the United States’ policies.

Dr. Hunter described how Iran’s leadership had “failed to shift” its foreign policy in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Foreign policy makers did not properly account for the demise of its crucial sponsor, and internal power struggles combined with a failure to modify ideological posturing, causing Iran to miss chances to signal its desire to engage the United States in meaningful ways to improve the country’s security situation. Iran’s leaders, Hunter explained, were often too busy sniping at each other than to promote a united and coherent foreign policy driven by interests and not individual biases.

Dr. Hunter was also critical of the United States and its orientation towards Iran after the end of the Cold War. She warned against demonization of Iran in the United States and elsewhere, describing the tendency of some in the US to “substitute the red menace with the green [Iranian] menace.” She bluntly described how this mistaken ideological cant undermines US efforts to engage Iran, instead promoting an atmosphere of tension and hysteria that leads to American foreign policy mistakes in the region.

Describing Iran’s preparations for a potential Israeli or American military strike, Dr. Hunter noted that Iran had been preparing for asymmetrical warfare for years and that any bombing campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities would be met with a violent response. No regime has “voluntary dissolved” and given up power, and Iran would not likely be an exception, according to Hunter. Therefore, decision makers in the US or Israel would not be able to stop at a bombing campaign if they decided to use military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program and would instead have to opt for “ground troops.”

While acknowledging that military options against Iran would pose serious challenges for the US, Hunter also argued that sanctions against Iran had strengthened those in power and hurt democratic and reformist movements in the country. Hunter maintained that a policy towards Iran based on deterrence and coercion is “unstable,” and both countries need to move past ideological posturing and work on real, constructive engagement efforts. Although she did not elaborate on what US or Iranian policy ought to be in the future, Dr. Hunter ultimately emphasized that serious mistakes have been made by both Iran and the US, and that continuing down that path of isolation and demonization will only lead to disaster for both sides.




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