US Iran policy has been long on the tactics and techniques of sanctions, and short on a clear, coherent, strategic vision of the kind of US-Iranian relationship Washington ultimately wants. Without defining that vision – and the most effective balance of incentives and punitive measures needed to get there – US policy toward Iran will continue to drift toward a choice between two unpalatable outcomes: the use of military force; or policies that seek to contain and deter Iran after it has succeeded in acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
A group of distinguished scholars and policy analysts convened under the direction of the Stimson Center and the United States Institute of Peace has concluded that the administration must rebalance its dual-track approach to be effective in future relations with Iran. Seeking to chart a more promising course, the study group argues for a policy of “strategic engagement.”
Strategic engagement will face many hurdles. If it does not succeed, the measures set out in this report will provide a foundation for a policy of deterrence and dissuasion. If, however, strategic engagement helps to advance a comprehensive solution to the escalating stand-off with Iran, it will be far preferable to a march toward war, or to a policy directed at deterring Iran after it has succeeded in acquiring a nuclear-weapons capability.