Adam L. Silverman, PhD*
As we move past the Thanksgiving holiday into December, and as the Republican primaries lurch ever closer, we can be assured that the reverbations from the recent IAEA report about Iran's nuclear program will continue. While some of this will be part of the posturing by candidates either in the Republican presidential primaries or in the lead up to the House and Senate campaigns in 2012, some of it will be the result of the US's responses to the report and the challenge that Iran presents, as well as how other major international and regional actors respond. As the US attempts to ratchet up the economic pressure through new sanctions, Russia, a major trading partner of Iran, as well as a major player in Iran's nuclear development program, has indicated that it opposes them. It is, perhaps, an appropriate time to step back and reflect on the actual strategic challenge that Iran's nuclear program presents to the US.
There are two key questions we have to ask in regard to any potential response towards Iran's nuclear development program: 1) will US action towards Iran actually prevent them from pursuing and/or acquiring a nuclear weapons capability? and 2) will US action towards Iran to prevent them from pursuing and/or acquiring a nuclear weapons capability change the Iranian government's behavior in the manner that we want? Looking at possible options we can reasonably rule out further and/or increased sanctions. To be blunt they have not worked. While they initially inflicted some pain on Iran that gave way long ago and Iran has managed to survive and grow despite them. While I am sure I am about to give a whole lot of people serious agita, now might be a good time to consider what might happen if we actually tried doing something else like pursuing a serious diplomatic initiative. Since trying to lock down and close off Iran has not actually worked, perhaps opening up trade and travel to Iran just might. While there is certainly no gaurantee of success, continuing to do what we are doing is, to paraphrase Professor Einstein, crazy. I can not help but think that the ability of diasporan Iranians to travel home, for Iranians to travel to other places including the US with less hassle and difficulty, for scientific, professional, and business exchanges to occur can not but have a positive effect. At some point we can not keep pointing to the stick and saying it is a carrot.