Time to re-engage with Iran

Time to re-engage with Iran

Have you heard of the testimonies of U.S. intelligence chiefs at a Senate hearing last week? They all said that Iran is not trying to build nuclear weapons. It seems like very good news for our troubled region. Looking for short-term policy implications? It’s time to re-engage with Iran. So the Europeans, together with Turkey, were right, and the U.S. and Israel were wrong in their policy recommendations. 

President Donald Trump is still living in an alternate reality and the Senate testimony has complicated things. Just have a look at the things he tweeted right after the public hearing. “The intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naïve when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” This was unfair of course. All three had probably already briefed their president before. Yet when they voiced their opinions publicly, Trump shot the messengers. “Perhaps intelligence should go back to school!” he said. Why would an American president wage war on his intelligence professionals?

What we have here is another temperamental president, if you ask me, and we all know that if there is one thing this type hates, it’s to be contradicted in public. It’s a very familiar thing for those of us living in the Middle East.

Temperamental decision makers hate to be corrected publicly. If you have a policy proposal to make, you better do it behind closed doors. Even though what you’re saying is good for the guy, he can’t be seen as bending to some know-it-all egghead. I’m guessing those intelligence people know that too, but maybe they saw an opportunity to pull things in their direction just a bit. Trump later tweeted a picture of them around his desk, adding: “Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office who told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media - and we are very much in agreement on Iran, ISIS, North Korea, etc.” Like Pauly says in Goodfellas, “you gotta keep up appearances.”

Still, a correction in America’s Iran policy is what the world needs. Why? First and foremost, Iran is not building nuclear weapons, as the most powerful intelligence chiefs in the world have reported – under oath – to their lawmakers.

Second, the new technological revolution will disrupt the Middle East, just like all other parts of the world. What we’ve seen up until this point is nothing compared to what’s to come. Look at what Tesla and BYD are going to do with more electric and autonomous vehicles in global roads. This technology will forever change the business plans of oil producing countries through structurally lower oil prices. That’s why everybody from Russia down to the Gulf are working on economic transformation programs, like 50-year-old smokers trying to go to the gym for the first time.

Third, the new sanctions are going to stop Iran from transforming itself into this new reality. That’s going to make things more dangerous in our region. Far from bringing any kind of peace, sanctions will only further destabilize our part of the world. More people will try to flee to Europe, further unsettling the liberal democracies there. There is a reason why Germany, France and the U.K. are setting up the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), a financial tool that would allow them to do business with Iran despite U.S. sanctions. This shows tremendous faith in liberal ideas that more trade will iron out political differences, that we are not so different from each other after all.

Tell all that to temperamental presidents and prime ministers. Behind closed doors, if possible.