May 19, 2011

U.S. Must Reshape Policy Toward Iran, According to New CNAS Report

The Obama administration's strategy toward Iran must be reshaped to reflect a changing Middle East, according to a new report by CNAS Non-Resident Senior Fellow Marc Lynch. 

Upheaval: U.S. Policy Toward Iran in a Changing Middle East
offers a range of recommendations for the Obama administration on its policy toward Iran – which include avoiding repolarization and inflation of the Iranian threat; more effective engagement with Arab publics and with emerging independent-minded Arab players such as Egypt and Turkey; and a different approach to nuclear negotiations.

Download Upheaval: U.S. Policy Toward Iran in a Changing Middle East.

Check out Marc Lynch's Middle East blog Abu Aardvark on and follow him on Twitter @abuaardvark.

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Lynch recommends that in developing a new approach to Iran, the administration should:

  • Engage Newly Empowered Publics. The administration should lay out a vision that aligns the United States with the aspirations of publics in the Arab world and Iran, and demonstrate that commitment in practice.
  • Focus on Human Rights and Universal Freedoms. The United States should call for the same universal rights and freedoms in Iran that it has articulated for the rest of the region, and significantly increase its focus on human rights in its approach to Tehran.
  • Communicate Iran’s Weakness. The administration should launch a strategic communications campaign designed to highlight Iran’s irrelevance to the uprisings and dwindling soft power, and avoid the temptation to embrace narratives that give Tehran an undeserved centrality in the region’s transformation.
  • Use Diplomacy to Shape the Future. A negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear challenge is unlikely in the short term, and this is not the time for a new public initiative. However, the administration should continue pursuing lower-level diplomacy and confidence-building measures designed to create possibilities for movement when conditions change.
  • Watch Out for War. The administration should guard against sudden spirals to war based on miscalculations, fear and unpredictable proxy struggles. It should reject efforts to adopt the model of intervention applied in Libya to Iran, and continue to resist calls for military action.


The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.