The “Elusive Iranian Moderate”

Writing in The Washington Post, former National Security Advisor and now Obama campaign advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski suggested the United States enter negotiations with Iran.

Writing in The Washington Post, former National Security Advisor and now Obama campaign advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski suggested the United States enter negotiations with Iran.

A successful approach to Iran has to accommodate its security interests and ours… Given Iran’s stated goals – a nuclear power capability but not nuclear weapons, as well as an alleged desire to discuss broader U.S.-Iranian security issues – a realistic policy would exploit this opening to see what it might yield. The United States could… negotiate, either on the basis of no preconditions by either side (though retaining the right to terminate the negotiations…); or negotiate on the basis of an Iranian willingness to suspend enrichment in return for simultaneous U.S. suspension of major economic and financial sanctions… there is no credible reason to assume that the traditional policy of strategic deterrence, which worked so well in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and with China…would not work in the case of Iran… (This) could help bring Iran back into its traditional role of strategic cooperation with the United States in stabilizing the Gulf region. Eventually, Iran could even return to its long-standing and geopolitically natural pre-1979 policy of cooperative relations with Israel. One should note also in this connection Iranian hostility toward al-Qaeda, lately intensified by al-Qaeda’s Web-based campaign urging a U.S.-Iranian war…

It may be quibbling to point out that Iran’s “stated goals” may not be its real goals. Or that China and the U.S.SR were traditional powers but Iranian revolutionaries are both transnational and apocalyptic. Or that Iran’s “traditional role,” including cooperation with Israel, was a function of the Shah. Or that Iran has been talking to al Qaeda about cooperation in Iraq. But it surely is not quibbling to point out that we’ve been there, done that and it didn’t work.

In October of 2007, JINSA was honored to present our 25th Henry M. Jackson Distinguished Service Award to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In the course of his very eloquent remarks, he discussed the “the elusive Iranian moderate.”

I remember back to November 1, 1979, when then-National Security Advisor Brzezinski was in Algiers… While we were there, the Iranian delegation asked to meet with (him). Brzezinski offered the Iranians – their prime minister and defense and foreign ministers – recognition of their revolution, continuation of their partnership that had existed under the Shah – including military assistance to the new government, and focus on a common foe to Iran’s north – the Soviet Union. They weren’t interested. They only wanted us to give them the dying Shah. Brzezinski refused, finally saying that to return the Shah would be incompatible with our national honor. That ended the meeting.

Three days later came word that our embassy in Tehran had been seized, and two weeks after that, the prime minister and defense and foreign ministers with whom we had met were out of their jobs and/or in jail. Thus began my now 28-year-long quest for the elusive Iranian moderate.

We should have no illusions about the nature of this regime or its leaders – about their designs for their nuclear program, their willingness to live up to their rhetoric, their intentions for Iraq, or their ambitions in the Gulf.

The problem is not in talking to Iran – the Bush Administration does and the Europeans do and the IAEA does. The problem is ascribing to them goals and objectives that are ours, not theirs.