Since the fall of the Shah’s regime in 1979, the United States has lacked a viable and coherent policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now more than ever, the United States must develop a new grand strategy that addresses all three principal U.S. national interests in the country. U.S. policy must seek to halt the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb, to end the regime’s support of terrorist groups, and to foster democratic change in Tehran.
Each of these goals is vital, and they are also intertwined. Compared to autocracies, democracies are more transparent about their foreign policy intentions and their military capabilities. Only when Iran has a government that is truly accountable to its people and to the rule of law will we be able to achieve a permanent and verifiable halt to that country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its support for international terrorism. The central strategic challenge for U.S. policymakers is how to encourage democratic development in Iran in the long run, while also slowing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons technology and reducing support for terrorist groups in the short run.
There has been little progress toward achieving any of these three objectives. After the United States invaded Iraq, many in both Tehran and Washington thought that Iran would be next. Yet there has been almost no attempt to define a new U.S. policy toward Iran. Consumed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and divided internally, the Bush administration did not pursue any serious new initiatives to deal with Iran during its first term in office. Despite its anti-European rhetoric during the contentious debate over the Iraq war, the United States outsourced Iran...
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