Tehran is Winning

Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted to a policy defeat when it comes to Iran — the US has no “leverage” complained the secretary. “We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage … and then sit down and talk with” Iran, Gates said. The reality is that fear of certain and violent decapitation is the only leverage the mad mullahs are likely to understand.

But Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, says he knows how to deal with rogues like Iran. He proposes to talk and without pre-conditions and presumably with no leverage. Apparently, he believes his campaign rhetoric of unspecified “change” will capture the cooperation of the hegemonic mullahs.

Obama’s approach is naïve and cedes the initiative to Tehran. Iran may be willing to talk to Obama but count on Tehran continuing her destructive ways. Since last summer, the US and Iranian ambassadors have negotiated in Baghdad three times yet Tehran increased her support for Iraqi insurgents.

The US must accept the fact that there is no non-military “leverage” that will compel Iran to change course. That reality logically gives Tehran a win on key fronts if the military option remains off the table: Iran will have its way in Iraq, at the nuclear bargaining table and in places like Lebanon.

Iran is winning in Iraq. Baghdad’s government is dominated by Tehran- supporting Shia. It uses Iraqi proxies like Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army to kill Americans hoping the US will abandon Iraq. Our lame duck president pledges we will stay the course in Iraq but the presidential candidates are promising exit strategies.

Tehran will not back down from its goal of an Iranian puppet government in Baghdad because that would virtually guarantee the Sunnis remain on the fringes of power and the Iraqi military will never again become powerful enough to threaten Iran as it did in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Besides, a pro Iranian government in Iraq would also further insultate Iran from international sanctions, to which it already seems almost impervious, as is indicated by her nuclear program.

Tehran continues to enrich uranium in spite of a host of international sanctions. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "… is quite prepared, as is the rest of the leadership, to ignore the various Security Council resolutions that require Iran to suspend these activities," acknowledged Greg Schulte, US Representative to the US International Atomic Energy Agency. "We are dealing with a regime that is very determined," Schulte said.

Even if Iran’s claim to a peaceful nuclear program were credible (and they’re not) her determination goes beyond internal programs. Iran is determined to exercise far more than an appropriate amount of influence over the internal affairs of neighboring nations.

Using proxies, the mullahs have expanded their influence from western Afghanistan (Herat) to the Mediterranean. In the early 1980s, Iran created the terrorist organization Hezbollah to advance her Islamic revolution. That organization has become the world’s largest terror group with American blood on its hands from the 1983 Marine barracks incident in Beirut to the current battlefields in Iraq. Recently, it has successfully fought Israel and now dominates Lebanon.

Iran’s imperialism has effectively created a bi-polar Mideast. The May 11th edition of the Iranian daily Kayhan addresses this new reality: “In the power struggle in the Middle East, there are only two sides: Iran and the US.”

The bi-polar Mideast creates a Hobson’s choice for the US side. Aaron Miller, a former US Mideast negotiator, explains that America “…is trapped in a region which it cannot fix and it cannot abandon.”

America’s Mideast options are bleak. The “military option” against Tehran isn’t attractive in part because our forces are already overstretched by two regional wars and the alternative, diplomacy with economic sanctions, hasn’t worked. Besides, our Sunni Arab allies are divided.

Tehran seems impervious to American diplomacy. For three decades our countries have communicated through posturing and exchanging insults. When we have negotiated we have played by Iran’s rules and always come up second best.

There is an explanation for our diplomatic stumbling. Gary Sick served on the National Security Council for three US presidents. He says our problem with the Iranians is the way that nation makes decisions and the Iranians’ “negotiating gene.”

Sick explains that to negotiate with Tehran you have to deal with multiple power centers: start with Supreme Leader Ali Khameini but take account of the majles [parliament] and the office of the presidency. Decisions in Iran are based on the consensus of these power centers which is alien to the West.

Iranians also believe they are superior negotiators. Sick explains that “Iranians grow up thinking their success or personal identity is determined by how well they bargain or that they can out-bargain or outwit anyone.” This view results in their unwillingness to compromise which puts Americans at a disadvantage, says Sick.

Therefore, when negotiating with Tehran you either accept her terms or you abandon talking and revert to brute force recognizing the regime for what it is — a theocratic, self-righteous state that accepts no compromise.

One statesman who endorses brute force with Iran is former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He uses the direct analogy between Iran and Nazi Germany. “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs,” Netanyahu told delegates to the annual United Jewish Communities general assembly. “Believe him and stop him,” Netanyahu said of Iran’s Ahmadinejad. “This is what we must do. Everything else pales before this.”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger agrees. Iran threatens the viability of the international community, says Kissinger. The Iranian problem “…will not go away” and he cautioned that if something is not done soon there will be multinational proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Last week, President Bush was in Jerusalem where he splashed cold water on negotiating with "radicals and terrorists" saying it was "a foolish delusion." Quickly the Pentagon’s spokesman claimed there was “absolutely no gap” between Gates’ views on negotiating with “radical” Iran and the president’s.

Tehran must have chuckled over the administration’s mixed messages. “What does incentives mean,” Ahmadinejad asked rhetorically while referring to Gates’ search for incentives to leverage negotiations with Iran.

Iran is winning on all fronts because the US has failed to find effective leverage to alter her dangerous, imperialistic activities. We must either surrender to Tehran’s mad mullahs or find Gates some persuasive leverage but that leverage is looking more like “shock and awe” brute force.