In the coming weeks, the United States may well be joining a new round of nuclear negotiations with Iran. But, rather than working to promote their success, most commentators seem to be consumed with explaining their anticipated failure. And their follow-up policy prescriptions seem designed to do more harm than good. Take Karim Sadjadpour’s article, “The Sources of Soviet Iranian Conduct,” in the November issue of Foreign Policy. Sadjadpour seeks to adapt George Kennan’s famous 1947 “Mr. X” article — which proposed the outlines of the Cold War “containment” strategy used against the Soviet Union — for America’s current Iran debate.
“Like the Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic is a corrupt, inefficient, authoritarian regime whose bankrupt ideology resonates far more abroad than it does at home,” Sadjadpour writes. “Also like the men who once ruled Moscow, Iran’s current leaders have a victimization complex and, as they themselves admit, derive their internal legitimacy from thumbing their noses at Uncle Sam.” It’s a clever conceit, but it would be a disaster for U.S. interests if Sadjadpour’s piece attains anything close to the level of influence achieved by Kennan’s.
That’s so for three main reasons. First, Sadjadpour’s reading of the drivers of Iranian foreign policy is profoundly at odds with the historical record of the Islamic Republic’s actual conduct. Second, his policy prescriptions would keep the United States from acting in its own best interests to pursue a comprehensive realignment of U.S.-Iranian relations. Third, his policy prescriptions would lead ultimately to a U.S.-initiated military confrontation with Iran.
Sadjadpour uses a highly selective exegesis of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rhetoric about the United States as a basis for arguing that the Islamic Republic’s very survival requires antagonism with America. This is a politically convenient argument, absolving Washington of any responsibility to engage seriously with Tehran, until the deus ex machina of “regime change” solves the Iran problem.