A New Strategy for Iran

Jonathan Rauch has an essay recommending a different strategy for containing Iran that ignores the rather foolish dichotomy of “all-out war or all-out surrender” that seems to be being pushed by Iran hawks. Here’s a tidbit:

Today, the United States enjoys overwhelming conventional superiority over Iran, a fact that Iran knows well and respects. But American strategists need to assume that even a limited conventional strike on Iran would bring an Iranian response, leading to escalation that might destabilize the region, break apart the Western alliance, and strengthen the mullahs’ prestige and power. Iran knows that, too.


Saddam was foolish enough to contest U.S. conventional power. Iran is shrewder. Pursuing a classic asymmetrical strategy, it has organized a regional network of allies that can strike at will against American interests and threaten to destabilize the region — but always at a deniable distance from Tehran. In a genuine strategic innovation, the mullahs are seeking regional domination by projecting unconventional power alone.


Against Iran, developing flexible-response capability implies recognizing three facts. First, Iran has positioned itself as a regional power and must be dealt with as such. That will mean talking to Iran instead of at it, negotiating rather than demanding. Second, U.S. conventional superiority does not and will not sufficiently deter Iran, whether or not Iran is nuclear.

Third, the United States urgently needs instruments that can hurt Tehran short of launching a major war. Those include propaganda and aid campaigns, support for the mullahs’ domestic political opponents, and economic pressure. All are easier said than done, but the cumulative effect even of flawed efforts can be significant, as the Soviets learned.

Read the whole thing. I’m more skeptical than Rauch is about how much direction Hezbollah and others are actually getting from Tehran, but there’s no denying that Iran definitely has influence among those groups. Rauch has outlined a rational, non-“appeasing” strategy for dealing with the Iranian threat to U.S. interests. It’s well worth the read.

QUICK UPDATE: Corrected the first paragraph to refer to containing Iran, rather than Iraq. Really, one of these countries should consider changing their names, because it’s really easy to slip on that last letter.

FILED UNDER: Asia, Middle East, National Security, Terrorism, World Politics, , , , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Joe says:

    Be sure to check out the “al-Jihad” booklet used by Hizballah and probably other terrorists planning the next attack on us. Read an analysis about it in “The Terrorist’s Nightmare” blog

  2. anjin-san says:

    Who exactly is advocating “all out surrender”? Names please.

    This is a repeat of Rumsfeld’s crap about Democrats thinking terrorists can be appeased.

    The Bush admin is a failure to the point where any Republican who hopes to be elected/re-elected is moving away from the President at high warp speeds. All Bush’s supporters have left is drive-by swift boat attacks like this.

    In reality, Democrats are pissed because the Iraq war has led to greater Iranian influence in the region and left us with an overstretched military and poor options for dealing with Iran.

    That said, Rauch makes some good points, Hope someone is listening.

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    anjin-san: If you read carefully, note that what I said was the rather foolish dichotomy of “all-out war or all-out surrender” that seems to be being pushed by Iran hawks.. In other words, I do not think that anything less than war equals surrender–but there are those hawks that do.

  4. LJD says:

    Anjin and the left appear to be lacking in reading comprehension…

    That said, sooner or later you’ll have to abandon the “everything is Bush’s fault’ meme and get some ideas of your own.

  5. Cernig says:

    I’m fairly sure you meant Iran when you wrote Iraq in your first sentence, Alex. O’course none of the uber-right noticed, what’s a letter or two between wars eh?

    Still, I’m unclear on why Rauch’s idea is “different”. This stuff has been said before, hundreds of times, by non-neocons from Right to Left in the US and by just about everyone else anywhere in the world who bothers to think clearly about it for three seconds.

    Is the difference that someone at NJ finally discovered some sanity among the wardrums?

    Regards, Cernig

  6. Alex Knapp says:

    Cernig – Thanks for that. I corrected the entry. As for what makes Rauch’s ideas different, what struck me about this article was the integration of several ideas into a pretty cohesive whole.

  7. Michael says:


    sooner or later you’ll have to abandon the “everything is Bush’s fault” meme and get some ideas of your own.

    The appropriate time for that would be after gaining control of at least one house of Congress, or the White House, whichever comes first. It may take a while after that for the meme to actually go away, note how long the “everything is Clinton’s fault” meme lasted.

  8. LJD says:

    It may take a while after that for the meme to actually go away, note how long the “everything is Clinton’s fault” meme lasted.

    I don’t recall that there ever was one, with those on their knees for him in charge of most all media outlets.

    But, in the case of 9-11, yes it was largely his fault, and that may be why you’ve heard it recently.

  9. anjin-san says:


    My question was a general one, not directed specifically at you. If it had been directed at you, I would have used your name to preface the sentence. Its one of those little things things that careful reading reveals.

    I am sure that LJD and some of the other fighting 101st keyboardists have lists of traitors and appeasers close at hand 🙂

  10. LJD says:

    Um, your ‘general question’ has nothing to do with the post, other than a few similar words in the first sentence. I guess the reading comprehension difficulty goes beyond the article and into the comments as well.

    Correction: Actual fighter, coincidentally able to use keyboard. Wipe the spittle from your chin.

  11. anjin-san says:


    Its a legit question, and its easy to see why you would want to run from it.

    For a tough terrorist fighter, you spend an awful lot of time whining dude…

  12. LJD says:

    You’re a couple of posts too late. Scroll down and read. I guess you felt outclassed in that commentary. No places to inject ‘Iraq is a quagmire!’

  13. Michael says:

    I don’t recall that there ever was one

    But, in the case of 9-11, yes it was largely his fault

    Your sense of irony in unmatched, LJD.

  14. LJD says:

    Lame. Very.

  15. anjin-san says:

    Its cool LJD, we realize you don’t really have much to shoot back with.

  16. LJD says:

    My comments were cherry-picked and presented to show irony, where there was none. There is no point responding to such a sophomoric attempt. However, I can understand how an idiot might pick up on such a falsehood.