NELSON INSTITUTE DIRECTOR RESPONDS TO AMITAI ETZIONI: “ IRAN’S LONG-TERM SECURITY INTERESTS—AND OURS”

November 26, 2007

HARRISONBURG— Today, in a special “Security First Forum” feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, responds to a proposal for a “mutual security enhancement deal” with Iran made last week by Dr. Amitai Etzioni, professor of international relations at the George Washington University and author of Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy.

After admitting that “the notion of a non-aggression pact with an unapologetic state sponsor of terrorism struck a rather discordant note” and citing the fact that “the mullahs’ constantly repeated mantra—that the Iranian nuclear program is entirely peaceful and meant only to produce electricity—makes no sense from both the economic and the technical perspectives,” Dr. Pham reviews Iran’s history and Iranians’ “unparalleled geopolitical endowments quite beyond their own possession of the world’s second-largest reserves of natural gas and third-largest of petroleum” as well as longstanding American interests maintaining the country’s independence and integrity.

Dr. Pham concludes:

All that being said, I am not especially optimistic that any kind of grand bargain can be struck with the current Iranian regime. In fact, I would not be surprised if, whether under the Bush Administration or its successor, U.S. military force will ultimately have to be deployed to persuade the mullahs to heed the demands of the United Nations Security Council to halt uranium enrichment and suspend work on plutonium-producing facilities. (And the mullahs cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons since, as I have previously argued, messianic religion is an intractable enough force that conventional deterrence cannot be counted upon to constrain their behavior.)

However, in weighing its policy options, the United States would do well to adopt a more expansive horizon for any "security first" agenda, considering not only the short-term backlash its actions might provoke, but also the long-term strategic consequences. In the end, the militant Islamism of the mullahs will, like the revolutionary communism of the commissars in Eastern Europe before it, prove a failed ideology that collapses under the weight of its own failed promises. When that happens, what will remain, to paraphrase Lord Palmerston, will not be the enmities or friendships of the present moment, but the permanent interests both of Iranians—who will want to reassert their ancient historical identity—and of the United States, whose security interests will lie once more with a strong Iranian ally in what has been a geostrategically vital arena from time immemorial.

The full text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “ Iran’s Long-Term Security Interests—and Ours,” can be accessed by clicking here.