Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Engagement With a Post-Crackdown Iran? (Matthew Yglesias)

In terms of the foreign-policy picture (which I have largely, and deliberately, left alone), what's likely to happen after the dust settles?

My guess is that what Matt Yglesias says here is probably right--especially in his second-to-last paragraph, which cuts through a lot of distractions and zeroes in on the most crucial factors. Possibilities for diplomatic re-"engagement" between the US and Iran will depend not only on what the US government does or is willing to do, but also on who is running Iran after this crisis and what they want to do. In that respect, a realistic (as distinct from "realist") prognosis suggests that the prospects are not very encouraging.

Of course, right now all that remains speculative to some degree.

--Jeff Weintraub

Matthew Yglesias
Jun 23rd, 2009 at 9:56 am

With the possibility of brutal suppression of the current round of protests very real, the question naturally arises as to what such a turn of events would mean for Barack Obama’s proposed policy of engagement with Iran. Robert Farley comments:

If the regime survives, it will be because of the loyalty and brutality of its security forces. With that brutality on display on US televisions (if only rarely) it will be much more difficult for Obama to build any domestic support for talks. Moreover, it’s not clear that he should; knowing that the Iranian regime was repressive before these latest incidents, and acknowledging that many US allies in the region don’t even bother with the fiction of elections doesn’t change the fact that it’s an ugly bit of business. I’d rather, other things being equal, not have my President engage with Iran while the current group of thugs is in power. Finally, I do think that the repression has opened greater opportunity for what might be termed a non-interventionist coercive strategy; this is to say that more and tougher sanctions against the regime are on the table now than was the case two weeks ago.

I would add to that the observation that a regime win would simply make me much less confident that engagement will work. The hope behind an engagement strategy was that the Supreme Leader might be inclined to side with the more pragmatic actors inside the system—guys like former president Rafsanjani and former prime minister Mousavi. With those people, and most of the Iranian elites of their ilk, now in open opposition to the regime, any crackdown would almost by definition entail the sidelining of the people who might be interested in a deal. Iran would essentially be in the hands of the most hardline figures, people who just don’t seem interested in improving relations with other countries.

Under the circumstances, the whole subject of American engagement may well wind up being moot.