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Hearing Proves Need for Comprehensive Approach on Iran

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo and Halle Schweikert on June 12, 2008

Acknowledging the failure of the Bush Administration's current Iran policy and the need to surface new policies which will reduce the chance of another conflict in the Middle East, US Representative Gary Ackerman (NY-D), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia held a hearing entitled, "More Than Just Enrichment: Iran's Strategic Aspirations and the Future of the Middle East" June 5.

Chairman Ackerman outlined Iran's difficult situation due to a bloody war with Iraq, a threat from Israel and a youthful population increasingly unhappy with "poor economic performance and high unemployment." However, things have changed for Iran said Ackerman, since Israel withdrew from Lebanon, and the United States removed the Taliban from Afghanistan and Saddam from Iraq. "Iran's own relationships in Iraq and Afghanistan are flourishing and, for very little cost, its influence in both countries has never been greater," said Ackerman.

Yet even in this new less threatening situation, Ackerman points out that Iran may continue to pose a threat through its nuclear program, or by supporting Shia groups in Iraq, Hezbollah, Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Why Iran would continue with such actions is complicated. The Bush Administration's policy towards Iran is failing because the Administration is not spending the time to adequately analyze its complexities, said Ackerman. The Administration's policy towards Iran is only making the nation feel more threatened while raising tension by isolating the nation further. "To face the challenge from Iran we must start by learning and questioning," said Ackerman. He outlined the types of questions which need to be posed;

What are Iran's strategic aspirations? Who controls Iran's foreign policy? Are there schisms and weaknesses in Iran's political system that we can exploit? How do Iran's leaders see their country's place in the world, and what does that imply about our ability to affect its foreign policy choices? What's behind the rhetoricespecially the threats to Israel and the repellent Holocaust denial? Who controls the balance between ideology and realpolitik in Iranian security policy?

Out of the three testimonies delivered at the Hearing, Dr. Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow of Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, best outlined the types of complexities that Rep. Ackerman acknowledged, Takeyh said:

Iran may perceive itself as uniquely aggrieved by the great powers' machinations and it may nurse aspirations to emerge as the regional leader. However, the limitations of its resources and the reality of its actual power have sporadically led to reappraisal and retrenchment... The tensions between Iran's ideals and interests, between its aspirations and limits will continue to produce a foreign policy that is often inconsistent and contradictory.

When Dr. Takeyh was asked the question, "should we be talking to Iran, and what do we loose by talking to Iran?" He responded that we would lose nothing and in fact could gain from such a policy of engagement, since Iran and the United States "have overlapping strategic interests in Iraq."

Physicians for Social Responsibility supports Ackerman's suggestion that new policies on Iran need to be developed. Policies in support of direct diplomacy will reduce tension and uncover both Iran's and the United States' threats and needs. This will in turn lead to sustainable policy solutions for both nations. Furthermore, if the United States uses a more multilateral approach to this problem, as Ackerman suggests, the threats and needs of other nations will also be incorporated into a new policy solution, leading to even greater potential for success.

We need a new comprehensive approach to policy making on Iran, the Bush Administration's policy of preemption made us less secure not more, and as Ackerman put it, "we can't afford to make the same mistake twice."

Read more about this hearing, and what the other experts had to say: http://www.internationalrelations.house.gov/sub_mideast.asp

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