A few days ago I received a mass e-mail from Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), warning of an impending confrontation between the United States and Iran. According to the e-mail,

“An array of recent reports, articles and analysis in the media leaves no doubt that we are very close to confrontation.  Debate on this issue has devolved from whether or not we should go to war with Iran, to whether Israel will let us know beforehand if they decide to attack.  The tone of the GOP primaries further paints the two sides in their corners – allowing less and less maneuverability to move in the right direction.”

I’m not sure that the media’s recent focus on Iran is an accurate indicator of a real willingness to take military action against Iran, but Mr. Parsi is right about the impact of the 2012 U.S. presidential election on U.S.-Iran relations. Obama’s stance on Iran will play a big part in the upcoming campaign and will most certainly feature in many of the debates. Republicans, eager as they are to regain the presidency, will attempt to portray Obama as being “soft” on Iran. To repel these accusations the Obama administration will take a harder line by turning up the rhetoric, imposing more sanctions and eschewing diplomacy (at least in the short term).

Diplomacy is what I assume Mr. Parsi means by “right direction” and I fully agree that the best outcome is a peaceful resolution that would empower Iran’s opposition movement and bring meaningful change. At the same time, Obama’s approach to diplomacy with Iran faces many challenges. During his term in office, Obama has adopted the Clinton administration’s strategy of “containment” towards Iran. This strategy served Clinton well in the 1990s mainly because Iran was going through a reconstruction period following its war with Iraq. It is, however, no longer an effective strategy as Iran is now a resurgent nation looking to exert and expand its influence in the Middle East, if not the world.  The instability in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fall of several U.S. allies in the Arab World have only served to strengthen Iran’s hand. Adding fuel to the fire, Iran is currently controlled by an ultra-conservative regime that relies heavily on nationalist and anti-American propaganda to fuel its fervent support base. Given all this, the prospects for diplomacy with Iran are understandably grim.

Such a hopeless situation is, of course, one that is ripe for political manipulation. The Republican challengers have already exploited the conflict to gain votes and will continue to paint Obama’s actions on Iran as ineffective. Short of war, any action that Obama takes will be portrayed as simply not good enough. While, as a politician, Obama must surely consider the domestic consequences of his foreign policy decisions regarding Iran, as a human being and a world leader, he must never put political success before human life, whether American or Iranian.

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