HOW NOT TO NEGOTIATE WITH PERSIA: A RESPONSE TO SIGURD NEUBAUER
"The greatest gift of any statesman rests not in knowing what concessions to make, but recognizing when to make them".
Clemens Lothar Wenzel, Furst von Metternich, Concessionen und Nichtconcessionen, 1852
"Instead of a policy of brinkmanship, the U.S. ought to position itself in the Gulf and engage in several forms of "goodwill gestures." A first step is to establish an American interest section in Teheran. In return, Iran is expected to scale back on its harsh anti-Israeli rhetoric, both domestically as well as within international bodies.
In recognition that no major change in the region can take place without Iran's cooperation, the United States can leverage, as a "carrot," to help bring the theocratic state out of its regional and international isolation by supporting Iranian membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In return, the Iranians can play a significant role in reducing its support of Hezbollah and force the Hamas government to moderate its stance vis-a-vie Israel. This will leave Hamas with little choice but to accept the terms and conditions of a Palestinian unity government in accordance with the Quartet's roadmap.
Of the many pressing issues within the troubled region, one of the priorities of the Obama administration will be to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to bridge the Arab-Persian geostrategic balance of power. Only through building measures of confidence by including Iran in a regional framework can the Iranian nuclear program be deterred".
Sigurd Neubauer, "Can we engage Iran", Diplomatic Courier, in www.diplomaticourier.org.
It is a commonplace of current diplomatic discourse that the new incoming American Administration, should 'engage' Teheran. Engagement for purpose of: a) stopping Persia's quest for nuclear status; b) seeking to 'bring' the ruling mullahs of Teheran, out of the cold, and, into some sort of security framework covering the region, and, thus helping to negate Persia's ties with Hamas and Hezbollah. The above referenced article by Sigurd Neubauer, is of a piece with this species of bien pensant type of thinking. The only problem with this sort of analysis is that it misunderstands completely the causation of why the current regime in Persia is so antagonistic to the Americans in general and to the West in particular. First, let us disentangle any nonsense, such as Neubauer indulges in, as for example bringing in Persia's ancient history as a means of helping to understand the policies of the current regime:
"In order to fully comprehend the Iranian nuclear ambition, it is important to carefully examine the historical origins of the Persian-Arab rivalry for control and influence over the Middle East and the Islamic world at large. Ever since the Islamic conquest of Persia (633–656) and the decline of the Sassanid Empire, the Persians historically consider the Sassanid period to be one of Iran's most important and influential historical periods.
In many ways the Sassanid period witnessed the highest achievement of Persian civilization, and constituted the last great Iranian Empire before the Muslim conquest and adoption of Islam. Behind the Islamic Republic's Shiite mantle, the Persian cultural identity and sense of cultural superiority over its Arab neighbors has been brought to the surface by the disintegration of Saddam Hussein's Iraq".
Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the current regime is openly hostile to any pre-Islamic influences on contemporary Persia, the sheer idiocy of the above statement is that it assumes an both a reductionist and essentialist "Persian" identity lasting for almost fifteen hundred years. Something which is completely ahistorical and worst sort of vulgar idealismus. Not to speak of the fact that almost fifty percent of Persia's modern day population is not in fact ethnically Persian, but is a member of another grouping: Azeris, Arabs, Kurds, Baluchis, et cetera. For whom adhering to and celebrating of some primordial "Persian" identity, is of course completely non-sensical. Enough said.
The real issue with the type of analysis that Neubauer and her ilk indulge in is the fact that is mis-understands the roots of Persian foreign policy: it is not something caused by or in reaction to, say American 'hostility', or better yet, that old standby: 'Western / American colonialism' and imperialism. The roots of Persian foreign policy lie in its internal nature, its domestic essence, id. est., its governing ideology. In short we must look for the causation of Teheran's foreign policy in terms of Privat der Innenpolitik : the primacy of internal policy. Meaning that the hostility displayed towards the West, towards the USA, towards Israel, et cetera. Are in fact, all of a piece considering that the legitimacy of the regime, and, its ideological makeup, are premised and based upon hostility towards these other actors. It is quite easily imaginable to believe that if the internal dynamics of the regime were to change, or alternatively if the domestic requirements of the Mullah's internal position were to mandate a pro-western / pro-American tilt, than we can very well expect to see the like. Pur et simple. The examples of such ideological 'flip-flops' are endless and do not need to be recounted here. The point is merely to underline the fact that the well-springs of Persian interaction with the new American Administration will be determined much more by say the price of oil, and, the economic situation of the country, or by which particular element of the ruling clique is gaining primacy over its rivals, than anything that the American government might or might not do or propose. Do not misperceive me: I am an adherent of endeavoring to 'engage' the Persians in the hopes that there might be a peaceful settlement to the nuclear quandary. I just do not anticipate that how Teheran will react to such a demarche is dependent upon remembering that in Anno Domini 620, the Persians occupied Egypt, the Levant and much of Asia Minor. Or that they defeated and killed the Triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus in the battle of Carrhae in BC 53.