The Iranian opportunity

THE IRANIAN OPPORTUNITY…. U.S. policy towards Iran has been a fairly significant element of the presidential campaign, both during the primaries and the general election. Last week, John McCain went so far as to insist that the Bush administration policy isn’t nearly hard-line enough, telling the editorial board of the Denver Post, “Let’s cut off all kinds of credit to ’em, all kinds — diplomatic, trade, you name it. Basically isolate them.”

Where some see a crisis, others see an opportunity. In the upcoming issue of the Washington Monthly, Flynt Leverett, senior fellow and director of the New America Foundation’s Geopolitics of Energy Initiative, and Hillary Mann Leverett, CEO of STRATEGA, a political risk consultancy, explain how and why the next presidential administration will have a unique opportunity to reorient U.S. policy towards Iran, a shift as significant as the one implemented by the Nixon administration towards China. It’s a very compelling case.

…Iran’s growing strategic importance and confidence in its role in the region mean it is no longer just a threat to be managed. More than ever, it is now an international actor that can profoundly undermine, or help advance, many of the United States’s most vital strategic objectives.

That is why the next U.S. president, whether it is John McCain or Barack Obama, should reorient American policy toward Iran as fundamentally as President Nixon reoriented American policy toward the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s. Nearly three decades of U.S. policy toward Iran emphasizing diplomatic isolation, escalating economic pressure, and thinly veiled support for regime change have damaged the interests of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. U.S.-Iranian tensions have been a constant source of regional instability and are increasingly dangerous for global energy security. Our dysfunctional Iran policy, among other foreign policy blunders, has placed the American position in the region under greater strain than at any point since the end of the Cold War. It is clearly time for a fundamental change of course in the U.S. approach to the Islamic Republic.

By fundamental change, we do not mean incremental, step-by-step engagement with Tehran, or simply trying to manage the Iranian challenge in the region more adroitly than the Bush administration has done. Rather, we mean the pursuit of thoroughgoing strategic rapprochement between the United States and Iran: the negotiation of a U.S.-Iranian “grand bargain.” This would mean putting all of the principal bilateral differences between the United States and Iran on the table at the same time and agreeing to resolve them as a package.

In addition, The Washington Note’s Steve Clemons, director of the New America Foundation’s American Strategy Program, will moderate a forum tomorrow stemming from the article with both Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett. For those readers in the D.C. area, here’s a link to the schedule for Tuesday’s event. If you’re outside the beltway and want to tune in, there will be a live webcast.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.