Sunday, March 25, 2007

Key Person: U.S. Policy on Iran

Patrick Clawson
Deputy Director for Research, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, United States

Education: BA, Oberlin College; Ph D, New School for Social Research

I would like to talk about a leading expert on Iran, in order to foresee American policy against Iran. Iranian theocracy has been one of the most serious threats to the West and the global community since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Currently, Iran conflicts with the West on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and security in Iraq.

Patrick Clawson has written numerous books about the Middle East with special focus on Iran, including “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005, with Michael Rubin) and “Getting Ready for a Nuclear Iran” (Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, 2005, edited with Henry Sokolski). Prior to joining the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Clawson was a senior research professor at the National Defense University, and then, worked for the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

In the post, entitled “Can We Talk with Iran?” on this blog, I mentioned his policy paper, “Forcing Hard Choices on Iran.” While Clawson insists that the United States demonstrate its military strength to deter Ahmadinejad’s adventurism, he refutes any kind of simple-minded approaches to attack Iran immediately. Fluent in Farsi, he is well aware of Iranian aspiration for a great power status by acquiring nuclear weapons.

Since then, Iran continues to be a problematic nation. On nuclear issue, Iran remains adamant to reject UN resolution to stop enriching uranium. On Iraq, Iran sponsors Shiite uprising, and it even detains 15 British sailors and marines. How can we talk with these issues with Iran? Should we expect Iran to be a responsible stakeholder on political stability in Iraq? Let me review his recent articles and comments to the media.

In a Policy Watch, “Hanging Tough on Iran”, released by the Washington Institute on February 9, Clawson points out fundamental weakness of Iran on nuclear negotiations. Despite this, Iran misunderstands its position. Certainly, Iran increased government revenue in 2006, thanks to high oil price. He argues Iran’s weakness from the following points. As to the economy, Iran is heavily dependent on oil. IAEA forecasts oil price will not rise steeply this year, because non-OPEC countries will increase the supply. Strategically, Iran is completely isolated from the world. As Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment, EU 3 (Britain, Germany, and France), Middle East neighbors, and even China and Russia, are increasingly concerned with growing Iranian threats. Politically, revolutionary ideology is losing ground. The government loosened bans on entertainment, such as mixed-sex dancing and alcohol.

Regarding Iraq issues, Clawson insists that it is not of much use to appease Iran. In another policy watch, “Engaging Iran on Iraq: At What Price and to What End?”, he points out that Iran has little interest to talk with the United States on Iraq. Even supposedly moderate Ali Rafsanjani argues that there is no reason for Iran to help the United States getting out of the Iraqi quagmire. Supreme Leader Ali Hossein Khamenei remarked “To justify their presence, the occupiers need insecurity in Iraq. Accordingly, they fan insecurity and instability” in Keyhan newspaper on November 27. Furthermore, Clawson points out that Iranian influence on Iraq is overestimated. He says that Iran can cause trouble, but cannot bring peace.

Patrick Clawson recommends further pressure on Iran in his article, “Iran Options”, in San Diego Union-Tribune on February 18. Due to isolation from the world, Iran has a limited access to foreign technology to develop nuclear weapons. However, adamant leaders in Iran are not likely to surrender in a short period, and the United States needs to reassure its allies in the Middle East protected from Iranian threat. Otherwise, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, may explore nuclear possession. Even a pre-emptive attack against Iran should not be ruled out.

Established in 1985, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has been committed to advance US interests in the Middle East, notably, security, peace, prosperity, democracy, and stability. The Board of Advisors includes influential policymakers from both parties. Patrick Clawson is a leading expert on Iran at the Washington Institute. Therefore, he is a man of focus for Iran watchers.