November 22, 2021 | The Arab Weekly

Malley should go back to the basics

Whatever policy the US special envoy is conducting on Iran does not qualify as diplomacy, but rather as ideology.
November 22, 2021 | The Arab Weekly

Malley should go back to the basics

Whatever policy the US special envoy is conducting on Iran does not qualify as diplomacy, but rather as ideology.

The US special envoy on Iran Robert Malley thinks that there is only one way to solve the global stand-off with Iran: ending Tehran’s exclusion and boosting its economy, which should incentivize the Islamic regime to stay in the nuclear deal. To Malley, sanctions have failed and war is not an option. Malley also thinks that Iran’s destabilizing activities, ballistic missiles, explosive drones and terrorist militias, are not America’s problems and should be solved independently of nuclear talks and in negotiations between Iran and its regional opponents.

Malley’s plan, however, is riddled with loopholes that make his diplomacy look more like ideology. That he laid out his views shortly before the US returns to negotiations with Iran in Vienna next week over rebooting the 2015 nuclear deal will be of particular concern for America’s allies in the region.

At the annual Manama Dialogue, organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Malley said that the “total lifting of sanctions and their economic dividends are sufficient incentive for Tehran to get back and stick to the nuclear deal.” The problem with Malley’s argument is that the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has sunset limits that eventually expire, freeing Iran of restriction and putting its nuclear programmed under the watch of UN inspectors. Going by past experiences, UN inspectors have always been toothless and have failed to detect, preempt or stop proliferation in places such as North Korea and so far with Iran. Incentive alone is not enough to quash Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Malley then argued that “most of the region’s dysfunction has roots in Iran’s exclusion.” Those, who like Malley, adopt the de-colonization approach to countries like Iran have always failed to assign agency to rogue states for their own failure. Iran, for example, violated international law in 1979 by storming the US embassy, resulting in severance of ties. The new regime, at the time, did the same to the Israeli embassy.

By 2016, the Iran regime had still not learned its lesson. It sent its thugs to burn the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the consulate in Mashhad, prompting Saudi Arabia to cut ties with Iran.

In most cases where countries sever diplomatic relations with Iran, Tehran has been the belligerent. Yet Malley and the decolonization crowd have often blamed the rest of the world for Iran’s isolation.

To substantiate his argument that only incentives work with Iran, Malley said, “We have tested the alternative” to boosting Iran’s economy by “withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran and applying maximum pressure.” Malley added: “Did we reach effective results?” He answered in the negative.

But this is spin. What Malley failed to mention was that after former President Donald Trump killed Iran’s all-militia commander Qassem Soleimani and imposed the “maximum pressure” policy on Iran, Tehran retreated and only escalated the morning after Trump’s defeat in elections to President Joe Biden. Maximum Pressure on Iran did not fail. Malley’s promised incentives made Iran ask for more and get away with doing less.

Finally, when Malley said “we are not negotiating anything else other than the nuclear issue in the Vienna Talks, because Iran’s activities in the region are a concern for GCC countries, Israel and others,” he effectively painted a regional picture without America in it. America, however, is not disengaging before handing the Iranian regime enough money to dig in its heels and continue attacking GCC countries and Israel.

Former President Barack Obama designed his Iran policy based on the known “carrots and sticks” diplomacy technique. If Iran stopped its pursuit to acquire nuclear weapons and ended its destabilizing behavior in the region, America and the world would remove sanctions and embrace the regime. Warmer relations build mutual trust with Iran, which would help solve the non-nuclear problems.

It never occurred to Obama, however, that Iran never considered its destabilizing behavior as being problematic, but has always viewed it as its raison d’etre. If anything, it was Iran who hoped that its trouble-making behavior would be accepted by Obama and Tehran’s new-found global friends as a legitimate expression of national interests.

Malley, who was one of the architects of Obama’s nuclear deal, went several steps further. Those who have read Malley’s literature and that of his like-minded friends know that his top priority is de-colonization. That is why he always blames others for Iran’s ills, but never blames Tehran itself.

Whatever policy the US special envoy is conducting on Iran does not qualify as diplomacy, but rather as ideology.

Perhaps Malley should go back to the basics, that sometimes power can only be stopped by a bigger power, that reward and punishment is a system that has proven its worth and that changes the calculus of governments, even Messianic and non-realistic regimes like the one in Tehran.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. He Tweets @hahussain.

Read in The Arab Weekly

Issues:

Arab Politics Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear