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The problems of the Middle East remain too deeply intertwined with U.S. national security and the American economy to ignore. Whatever it might prefer to do, the Obama administration can’t just walk away from the region, but has to take a greater interest in it.
Before pursuing a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, the White House needs to reassess its interim agreement. It would be a grave error to allow the Islamic Republic to emerge from negotiations with its nuclear ambitions intact, its terrorist activities undiminished, and its people denied their basic rights.
Despite international pressure, Iran appears to be continuing its march toward getting a nuclear bomb. But Washington can contain and mitigate the consequences of Tehran's nuclear defiance, keeping an abhorrent outcome from becoming a catastrophic one.
An excellent way to take the measure of revolutionary Iran today is to read this up-to-date, well-researched, and perceptive history of its foreign policy since 1979.
The Bush administration wants to contain Iran by rallying the support of Sunni Arab states and now sees Iran's containment as the heart of its Middle East policy: a way to stabilize Iraq, declaw Hezbollah, and restart the Arab-Israeli peace process. But the strategy is unsound and impractical, and it will probably further destabilize an already volatile region.
To tame the growing power of Iran, Washington must eschew military options, the prospect of conditional talks, and attempts to contain the regime. Instead, it should adopt a new policy of détente. By offering the pragmatists in Tehran a chance to resume diplomatic and economic relations with the United States, it could help them sideline the radicals and tip Iran's internal balance of power in their favor.
After dispelling myths about Tehran -- that the regime is unitary, evil, and about to collapse -- Ray Takeyh's skillful book on U.S.-Iranian relations offers pragmatic prescriptions to Washington: against regime change and for more engagement.
In their March/April 2005 Foreign Affairs essay "Taking on Tehran", Kenneth Pollack and Ray Takeyh argued that offering economic benefits to moderates in Tehran could strengthen their hand domestically and enable them to extract concessions on the nuclear issue from their harder-line colleagues.
If Washington wants to derail Iran's nuclear program, it must take advantage of a split in Tehran between hard-liners, who care mostly about security, and pragmatists, who want to fix Iran's ailing economy. By promising strong rewards for compliance and severe penalties for defiance, Washington can strengthen the pragmatists' case that Tehran should choose butter over bombs.
Takeyh's postscript to his May/June 2001 essay "The Rogue Who Came in From the Cold."
The recent trial of two Libyans for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, raises a vexing problem for U.S. policymakers: What should Washington do when American containment policy starts to pay off and a "rogue" state starts to reform? After years of international isolation, Colonel Mu'ammar Qaddafi is ending his belligerence and starting to meet many of the demands placed on him by Washington and its allies. Now President Bush must figure out how to keep the pressure on while recognizing Libya's progress and helping reintegrate it into the world community.