May 19, 2011

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

The wave of uprisings that have rocked the Arab world will have dramatic consequences for America’s strategy toward Iran. Arguments rage over whether the upheavals have strengthened or weakened Iran, Tehran’s role in sparking or exploiting the turbulence, how new regimes in key Arab states might interact with the Islamic Republic, and if the wave of protests might reach Iran itself. But for all of the uncertainty, one thing seems clear: The foundations of the Obama administration’s Iran strategy are crumbling. This report lays out a U.S. strategy toward Iran that is a policy reset from the regional status quo.

In Upheaval, author Marc Lynch suggests the following policy recommendations for the Obama Administration:

  • 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.

Author

  • Marc Lynch

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