Which Path to Persia?

Which Path to Persia?: Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran

Kenneth M. Pollack
Daniel L. Byman
Martin Indyk
Suzanne Maloney
Michael E. O’Hanlon
Bruce Riedel
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 241
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  • Book Info
    Which Path to Persia?
    Book Description:

    Crafting a new policy toward Iran is a complicated, uncertain, and perilous challenge. Since it is an extremely complex society, with an opaque political system, it is no wonder that the United States has not yet figured out the puzzle that is Iran. With the clock ticking on Iran's pursuit of nuclear capabilities, solving this puzzle is more urgent than ever.

    In Which Path to Persia?a group of experts with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings lays out the courses of action available to the United States. What are the benefits and drawbacks of airstrikes? Can engagement be successful? Is regime change possible? In answering such questions, the authors do not argue for one approach over another. Instead, they present the details of the policies so that readers can understand the complexity of the challenge and decide for themselves which course the United States should take.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0379-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Trouble With Tehran: U.S. Policy Options toward Iran
    (pp. 1-28)

    What should the United States do about Iran? The question is easily asked, but for nearly 30 years, Washington has had difficulty coming up with a good answer. The Islamic Republic presents a particularly confounding series of challenges for the United States. Many Iranian leaders regard the United States as their greatest enemy for ideological, nationalistic, and/or security reasons, while a great many average Iranians evince the most pro-American feelings of any in the Muslim world. Unlike other states that may also fear or loathe the United States, Iran’s leaders have consistently acted on these beliefs, working assiduously to undermine...

  5. Part I. Dissuading Tehran:: The Diplomatic Options

    • [Part I. Introduction]
      (pp. 29-30)

      For the new Obama administration, dealing with the long-standing challenges to U.S. interests and security posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran will be complicated by a range of intractable and unfortunate factors: the increasing urgency of the timeline associated with Tehran’s nuclear program, the adverse conditions for U.S. influence in the region, and finally the curious, contradictory legacy of its predecessors’ policies. While experts differ on precisely when and how Tehran may cross the nuclear threshold, the scope and pace of the Iranian program ensures that this issue will rank near the top of the agenda for President Obama’s...

    • CHAPTER ONE An Offer Iran Shouldn’t Refuse: Persuasion
      (pp. 31-56)

      To convince Iran to give up its nuclear program, the George W. Bush administration in 2005 adopted a diplomatic approach that employed a combination of positive inducements and the threat of economic and diplomatic sanctions if Tehran refused to comply. By the time Bush left office, the policy had not yet succeeded, although it had accomplished more than many of its critics had predicted. Many Americans believe that this approach could be revived, revised, and made to succeed under a new administration.

      Immediately after his election, President Obama himself indicated that this would be the starting point of his administration’s...

    • CHAPTER TWO Tempting Tehran: The Engagement Option
      (pp. 57-82)

      As the previous chapter noted, the Bush administration tried a version of the Persuasion approach toward Iran for roughly three years and failed to convince Tehran to end its quest for a nuclear weapons capability or cease its other problematic behavior. In response, a number of Iran analysts have suggested that the problem was not the Bush administration’s half-hearted and contradictory embrace of the strategy but rather that the policy itself was flawed. These analysts argue that the threat and imposition of sanctions will inevitably prompt nationalistic Iranians and a fearful regime to reject any diplomatic overture from the West,...

  6. Part II. Disarming Tehran:: The Military Options

    • [Part II. Introduction]
      (pp. 83-86)

      The diplomatic options available to the United States for addressing the problem of Iran share a common, possibly fatal, flaw: they require Iranian cooperation. Even the Persuasion option, which contains important elements of coercion in addition to those elements meant to persuade, ultimately relies on the willingness of the Iranian regime to cooperate. Both diplomatic options assume that Tehran is capable of making cost-benefit analyses, placing strategic considerations ahead of domestic politics and ideology, and making a major shift in what has been one of the foundational policies of the Islamic Republic—enmity toward the United States. As the previous...

    • CHAPTER THREE Going All the Way: Invasion
      (pp. 87-102)

      There is little appetite in the United States for mounting an invasion of Iran. After the frustrations and costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, few Americans are looking for another fight in the Middle East. American ground forces are badly overstretched as it is. Under these circumstances, an invasion of Iran would require calling up huge numbers of National Guard and military reserve personnel and keeping them in service for several years. After the strains of frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past eight years, this might undermine the foundations of the all-volunteer force.

      Nor is...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Osiraq Option: Airstrikes
      (pp. 103-124)

      Because there is little expectation that the Obama administration would be interested in paying the costs and running the risks associated with an invasion—let alone convincing the American people to do so at a time of national economic crisis—those who believe that force is the best, or even the only, way to address the problems of Iran are more likely to advocate a more limited campaign of airstrikes against key Iranian targets. In particular, such a policy would most likely target Iran’s various nuclear facilities (possibly including key weapons delivery systems such as ballistic missiles) in a greatly...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Leave it to Bibi: Allowing or Encouraging an Israeli Military Strike
      (pp. 125-140)

      For the United States, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been an enemy for 30 years, one that has sought to thwart U.S. policies in the Middle East, such as advancing the Arab-Israeli peace process and creating stable regional security arrangements. Crisis after crisis has arisen between Iran and the United States, but Iran has never been and almost certainly never will be an existential threat to the United States. It harbors no territorial designs on the United States, has never conducted a terrorist operation aimed at the American homeland, and, even should it acquire nuclear weapons, lacks the delivery...

  7. Part III. Toppling Tehran:: Regime Change

    • [Part III. Introduction]
      (pp. 141-142)

      For some Americans, neither the diplomatic nor the airstrike options offer a persuasive approach to Iran. They have little confidence that the Iranians can be persuaded—either with big incentives and disincentives, or with just the big incentives—and fear that airstrikes would fail to disarm Iran and instead would further entrench the clerical regime. Instead, they believe that only taking action to bring about the fall of the Islamic Republic can protect America’s vital interests in the Middle East. These Americans see the regime itself, and not merely its behavior, as the real threat to U.S. security. They believe...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Velvet Revolution: Supporting a Popular Uprising
      (pp. 143-156)

      Because the Iranian regime is widely disliked by many Iranians, the most obvious and palatable method of bringing about its demise would be to help foster a popular revolution along the lines of the “velvet revolutions” that toppled many communist governments in Eastern Europe beginning in 1989. For many proponents of regime change, it seems self-evident that the United States should encourage the Iranian people to take power in their own name, and that this would be the most legitimate method of regime change. After all, what Iranian or foreigner could object to helping the Iranian people fulfill their own...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Inspiring an Insurgency: Supporting Iranian Minority and Opposition Groups
      (pp. 157-169)

      As much as many Americans might like to help the Iranian people rise up and take their destiny in their own hands, the evidence suggests that its likelihood is low—and that American assistance could well make it less likely rather than more. Consequently, some who favor fomenting regime change in Iran argue that it is utopian to hold out hope for a velvet revolution; instead, they contend that the United States should turn to Iranian opposition groups that already exist, that already have demonstrated a desire to fight the regime, and who appear willing to accept U.S. assistance. The...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Coup: Supporting a Military Move against the Regime
      (pp. 170-178)

      Because the evidence suggests that it would be hard to move the Iranian people to revolution—even though this would be the best way to effect real regime change—and because supporting an insurgency seems unlikely to achieve regime change quickly, if at all, some Americans have explored the possibility of encouraging a military coup. A nation’s armed forces always have an intrinsic capability to depose the government, even if a strongly ingrained professional ethos makes it highly unlikely that they would do so. The Iranian armed forces certainly have a much greater ability to unseat the current regime than...

  8. Part IV. Deterring Tehran:: Containment

    • [Part IV. Introduction]
      (pp. 179-182)

      It seems fitting that discussion of the Containment option would come last in this survey of U.S. policy options toward Iran, because Containment is always America’s last policy choice. When a state proves too hostile for Engagement or a diplomatic compromise, when it is too strong to be invaded or otherwise attacked, and when it is too repressive to be overthrown, only then does the United States opt to contain it as best it can.

      To a great extent, Containment has been the default U.S. policy toward Iran since the Islamic Revolution because Washington failed with the other options—at...

    • CHAPTER NINE Accepting the Unacceptable: Containment
      (pp. 183-200)

      As in the past, Containment may become the U.S. policy of last resort toward Iran. If Washington is once again unable to persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear program and its other problematic behaviors, if it is unable or unwilling to try to overthrow the regime, if it chooses not to invade or if it chooses not to use airstrikes or to encourage the Israelis to do so, then it may find itself dusting off and applying a policy of Containment toward Iran.¹ Indeed, there seems to be an implicit assumption in many of the arguments made by Americans...

  9. CONCLUSION: Crafting an Integrated Iran Policy: Connecting the Options
    (pp. 201-216)

    None of the policy options toward Iran have a high likelihood of succeeding, even as their proponents would define success. None is likely to protect all of America’s national interests at low cost and with minimal risks. As should be apparent by this point, all of them are less than ideal solutions to the problems Iran poses. Indeed, one of the reasons that the Iran debate is so contentious and intractable is that there is no obviously right course of action. Instead, policymakers must choose the least bad from among a range of unpalatable alternatives.

    What should also be clear...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 217-226)
  11. About the Authors
    (pp. 227-230)
  12. Index
    (pp. 231-242)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-244)