By Daniel Larison | 20 June 2019
Bullying and crude threats will achieve little beyond entangling the United States and the region in another senseless war while deepening the two countries’ 40-year estrangement. The United States should strive for an Iran that is stable with a strong middle class and highly educated youths connected to the moderating influence of the outside world[bold mine-DL]. The Iranian people want to restore the friendship between Iran and the United States, two countries that enjoyed 123 years of cordial ties before 1979. But the path to their hearts and minds is not through sanctions and military intervention.
It is not too late for this administration to cease demonizing and threatening Iran, and step aside from its maximalist demands. One of Iran’s most renowned poets, Rumi, offers a better way forward: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
The Trump administration should follow these recommendations, but I fear it is so far down the path of belligerence and confrontation that the president and his officials wouldn’t know how to stop at this point. Most U.S. administrations are loath to give up on failed policies even when it is obvious to everyone else that they cannot succeed, and the Trump administration is more resistant to admitting failure than most. If the president opts for de-escalation and climbing down from the unrealistic and excessive demands that his administration has made, we should encourage him in making that change and support that effort at de-escalation. If he continues to follow the toxic advice of Iran hawks to intensify the pressure campaign, he should be opposed every step of the way.
The U.S. and Iran lurch from misunderstanding to abortive engagement to crisis in no small part because our governments never directly communicate with each other and our nations have comparatively little contact. Opening regular channels of communication wouldn’t eliminate disagreements and disputes, but it would allow for those disputes to be addressed through dialogue rather than through clashes and incidents at sea. Establishing normal relations should be a goal of U.S. policy within the next few years. It is bizarre that the U.S. and Iran have been without normal diplomatic relations for my entire lifetime, especially when the U.S. has more often directly negotiated with and exchanged ambassadors with former enemies that the U.S. fought major wars against. If we are capable of burying the hatchet with Vietnam, China, Japan, Italy, and Germany within 20 years of fighting them or less, and if we could have normal relations with the Soviet Union and its communist allies throughout the Cold War, we can certainly have normal relations with Iran after all this time. […]