Which Ideas Are Guiding Our Foreign Policy With Iran?


On June 15th, 2007, Charlie Rose sat down with Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft to discuss foreign policy and geo-strategy.  That’s over six years ago!

I was surprised to find that Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981, described very nearly what the Obama administration’s current Iran policy seems to be.  Runs from 32:52 to 35:10 (Sorry I couldn’t embed with the exact time-stamp).

A few minutes can explain a lot.  Well worth your time.

Addition:  Here’s a brief summary of that argument:

1.  The Iranians and the Iranian regime, despite what their intentions may be, have a right to enrich uranium up to 5% according to international law.   They’re doing this.

2. We’re asking them to abandon this right as a precondition to any negotiations, creating an asymmetry.  We should offer to lift sanctions first in return just to get them to swallow their pride and sit down for talks.  This pride may extend beyond the mullahs and regime, and go into the cultural and national psyche of Iranians.

3.  Whatever their intentions may be, unlike North Korea, the Iranian regime isn’t out and proud about nuclear enrichment and weaponization.  They’re at least claiming to follow international law which gives us some leverage.

As Kissinger points out, if we pursue this track we also need to be thinking that it all may be a time-buying exercise by the regime, we’ll have to use back channels and other means to at least get a sense that we’re getting SOMETHING for our troubles.

***After Syria and the Assad/Putin affair, and watching this administration’s leadership and strategy, I can say I’m highly sketical, to put it mildly.


I can see Obama straining for some kind of legacy here, to lay himself down and bring some sort of Egypt/Israel peace accord home after seizing the Rohani window, but it’s clearly a longer shot.  Even if your aim is some kind of peace treaty, the price is high, and Obama’s typically been longer on ideals & speeches and shorter on delivery.

He’s also got the pro-peace, activist base to appeal to at home.  Domestically, Obamacare is crumbling and his poll numbers are sinking, which may create some daylight between the liberal/Left activist base and the realpolitik of the liberal internationalist policy-makers and elite.

Looking at the current state of Egypt, the continuing civil-war in Syria spilling over its borders, the Kurdish uprisings, the restless Turks and the spurned Saudis, it’s reasonable to wonder if Obama’s attuning himself to the costs associated both domestically and abroad for pursuing such a deal.

So, who’s running our foreign policy?

Well, people like Susan Rice and John Kerry, apparently working according to plans very similar to those Brzezinski laid-out above, under the ultimate direction of Obama.



You do diplomacy with leaders you have.

The President has said that a nuclear Iran isn’t an option.

So, what other, other options do we have?

Addition: Over Egypt, John Kerry’s doing things his way, against the wishes of the administration and Susan Rice’s aggressive, disjointed, democracy  promotion.

Related On This SiteIsrael, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least

So what are our interests and how do we secure them as the fires in the Middle-East rage?  Michael Totten makes a case here in Why We Can’t Leave The Middle-East.’  He gets push-back in the comments.

If only we could break through the hard-line, repressive, Islamist thugocracy down to the pragmatic, pro-democratic Green thinking, this would be a masterstroke, went the current and perhaps wishful thinking.

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘Iran: Keeping The World’s Oddest Couple Together’

Brzezinski Discusses Obama’s Administration’s Syria Policy On 06/14/13


Update:   Boehner is on board.  Are we pretty much in a state of war?  Maybe not.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, liberal and hawkish, dialed-in, experienced and strategic, slowly realizes that Obama’s foreign policy is not particularly strategic, nor structured, but rather an untended garden of difference-splitting, politics (appealing to the civil rights crowd and pro-peace 60’s idealist coalition) and incoherence.

You’ve been hustled.

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime still marches towards deliverable nuclear weapons (organized, terrorist-sponsoring thuggery) and continues to back Assad, the Sunni Arab-World shivers and the Saudis have turned back towards Moscow to some extent.  Putin will leverage any weakness on our part for his political gain at home.  Israeli action and reaction is now more likely, the Turks are left to fend for themselves, and the Syrian sectarian conflict rages on, brutal, bloody, and violent.  Assad’s regime had been hunkering-down for 30 years, now apparently willing to test the international waters for a reaction against the use of Sarin gas.  The Syrian opposition (the better people thrust into war) has been left on its own, and all the worst actors have filled in.  This could escalate into a Civil War, and maybe a regional conflict in which we may eventually find ourselves with fewer options than we have now, still facing Iran in some capacity.

It’s hard to remember such badly conducted foreign policy, and it’s not terribly clear if well conducted foreign policy is forthcoming any time soon in American politics.

It goes to show that some of the inherent logic of our challenges remains similar from President to President.

Addition: Foreign Affairs has good coverage.  What are our options?

Related On This Site: …From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

I just received a copy of Totten’s book, Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading.

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’

Liberal Internationalism is hobbling us, and the safety of even the liberal internationalist doctrine if America doesn’t lead…Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

Zbigniew Brzezinski Via The Washington Examiner: ‘Ex-Carter Aide: U.S. Power In Middle East ‘Rapidly, Rapidly Coming To An End’

Full post here with video.

Brzezinski worked in the Carter administration (Khomeni!) and repeats the idea that the makers of the “Innocence of Muslims” video should be investigated in order to confirm or deny an intent to provoke violence.  This seems to be the liberal party line in the wake of the Obama administration’s actions.

In my opinion, the investment in the liberal internationalist doctrine led by Obama’s team is not worth the chilling effect on free speech here at home.  There seems to be little value in having the brother of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Muhammad Al-Zawahiri, out in the streets of Cairo rallying anti-American support, then doing an interview explaining why there should be swift, Sharia punishment for a video he hasn’t seen.

It sounds like appeasement at this point, or just a nod to our weakening influence and events largely beyond our control.  As Brzezinski notes:

“We’re dealing here with a messy region which is increasingly slipping into increased instability — a region in which American domination is rapidly, rapidly coming to an end.”

All of those Salafists, the radicals, the purists, will try and bend events to their will, and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood coalition will have to co-opt them in order to consolidate power further.

Also mentioned:  Pakistan-a 21st century military with nuclear weapons, a semi-democratic elite, educated few atop masses of many uneducated people, and all this atop a 16th century tribal/feudal society.  What happens when we withdraw from Afpak?

Interesting discussion.

Addition:  Paul Rahe is much more critical of Brzezinski here.

Related On This Site: Al-Zawahiri’s Egypt, a good backstory: Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’

From Al Jazeera English: ‘Morsi Wins Egypt’s Presidential Election’Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest on Egypt: ‘Still More of the Same—and Something New’…are we still on a liberalizing, Westernizing trajectory?, however slow the pace? Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’