Securing U.S. Interests While Avoiding a War with Iran

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: While Iran does pose a threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East, it isn't a strong enough threat to justify U.S. intervention. If anything, U.S. intervention could exacerbate regional conflict and lead to another "endless war."

Iran is far too weak to pose a serious threat to the United States.

The country's GDP is 50 percent less than the Pentagon's budget. Iran has been unable to dominate its neighbors, and its support of extremist groups reflects its own weakness. The country possesses enough oil to influence the market, but not enough to control it. And its behavior is "bad but not unique among other powers in the region."

Washington's hostility towards Iran is driven by several myths.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Middle East is not as vital as it once was for global or domestic energy supply, and U.S. interests would not be best managed by a permanent military presence in the region. Similarly, the United States is far more capable of coexisting with Iranian extremists than is commonly suggested.

From a strategic purpose, it is a mistake to think that sanctions and preventive actions -- including war -- will cause Iran to change course, spur a revolution, or end nuclear proliferation. Ultimately, this level of "maximum pressure is more likely to lead to crisis or war with Iran than capitulation or negotiations."

A policy based on deterrence and neutrality would better serve U.S. interests.

Despite its development of nuclear weapons, Iran is focused on deterrence -- the U.S. should respond accordingly. To further improve relations, the U.S. should remain neutral in power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and remove all U.S. forces from Syria and Iraq. Finally, the U.S. should drop the most extreme demands it's made on Iran, and "provide a diplomatic off ramp" from this approach, and towards "more substantial negotiations on more complex disagreements."

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