The Iranian dilemma, or how to move outside of a rock and a hard place

The 1953 CIA overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh, the 1979 hostage crisis, and Iranian persistence in acquiring a nuclear weapon all point to failed foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran. This less than ideal more than half century of relations has been partly the result of what I believe is a simple lack of real understanding of Iran and Iranian interests[1], but also the limited options that American presidents have had with regard to our policy towards Iran, a policy which has consistently been one of containment. While National Security Advisors Henry Kissinger (under Nixon and Ford) and Zbigniew Brzezinski (under Carter) understood the common interests that America and Iran shared both in the region and internationally, the loss of the Shah has since blurred those interests and has constrained our regional dependence to only two military allies, Israel and Egypt. With Hosni Mubarak now also out of the picture, both Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will speak with a stronger and more alarming voice for understandable reasons.

My research proposal for the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress seeks to analyze the policies of the three latest presidents vis-à-vis Iran: Clinton, Bush, and Obama. The goal is to determine the extent to which the policies were different (or similar), and how much leeway each president has actually had in crafting our Iranian policy, given 1) the demands and pressure that the AIPAC lobby places on both Congress and the president, and 2) the difficulty of negotiating with Iranian leaders who measure their popular support by the level of their anti-American rhetoric. Some might say that the comparisons would be complicated by the change in Iranian leadership between presidents Rafsanjani (centrist), Khatami (reformist), and  Ahmadinejad (conservative), but the counter to that of course is that the Ayatollah Khamenei holds all the power and has been the same throughout all these American presidents. Indeed, while Khatami strove for a “dialogue between civilizations” or a policy of “détente,” Supreme Leader Khamenei undermined these attempts by continuing to support Islamist radical groups in other countries, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza/West Bank.[2] While Khatami wanted a dialogue with the US, Khamenei considered a dialogue with America “even more harmful than establishing ties with that country.”[3] As a result, the substance of Iranian foreign policy has remained the same throughout: Islamic, anti-American, anti-Israeli, and independent.[4] If the research does show that efforts of rapprochement have repeatedly been foiled throughout all three American presidencies by Khamenei, the paper will then offer an analysis of what types of steps could be taken with a post-Khamenei Iran, an upcoming eventuality given his old age.


[1]    CIA analyst Graham Fuller writes in 1985, “Nobody has any brilliant ideas about how to get us back into Teheran.” Reprinted in Murray, Donette. “The carcass of dead policies: lessons for Obama in dealing with Iran.” Contemporary Politics. Vol. 16, No. 2, June 2010, page 219.

[2]    Rakel, Eva Patricia. 2007. “Iranian Foreign Policy since the Iranian Islamic Revolution: 1979-2006.” Perspectives in Global Development and Technology. Vol. 6, No.1-3, page 179.

[3]    Ibid.

[4]    Ibid.

About The Panhumanist

I have a B.A. in Religious Studies, a Master's in Public Policy, and a Juris Doctor.
This entry was posted in Foreign Affairs and National Security, Presidential-Congressional Relations and The Historical Congress, The Presidency and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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