The recent geopolitical developments in the region of the Middle East reflect the need for significant re-evaluation of the U.S. strategy with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The decades of mutual distrust have contributed to the development of the political narrative that conditions the U.S. policymakers to regard Iran as the Americans' ultimate adversary in the Middle East (Tirman, 2009). Following the arguments presented by F. Leverett and H. M. Leverett (2013), this article will argue that a far more comprehensive and personalized approach is necessitated, as it was the case with the 1972 U.S - PRC rapprochement.
The U.S. policymakers' assumptions about the Islamic Republic are essentially based on the flawed premises, the Leveretts argue. In their opinion, the contemporary Iranian government is generally supported by the bulk of the nation's population, whereas only a handful of the liberal intelligentsia would uphold Western attempts to unseat it (F. Leverett & H. M. Leverett, 2013). This viewpoint may be bolstered by the similar conclusions reached by such U.S. scholars as Amirahmadi and ShahidSaless (2013), who observed that Western enthusiasm for the 2009 anti-government protests' regime change potential was largely misplaced as the majority of the protests' participants opposed the alleged abuses by the Ahmadinejad administration, rather than against the Islamic system as such (Amirahmadi & ShahidSaless, 2013, pp.152-153). Hence, the Green Movement represented a reformist, rather than revolutionary, undertaking, and even the vote count figures put forth by Hossein Mousavi's election staff indicate that the ultra-conservatives headed by Ahmadinejad still retain a significant number of supporters (Amirahmadi & ShahidSaless, 2013, p.153).
F. Leverett and H. M. Leverett (2013) go further by arguing that, contrary to popular misconceptions, the present Iranian regime has managed to substantially modernize the nation's economy and education, enabling the Islamic government to confidently look into the future. While usual accounts of Iran's economic development would naturally center on the oil factor, several studies demonstrate that the late 1990s and the 2000s was a period of significant economic diversification. For instance, while focusing on the oil boom as a factor in Iran's economic growth, Salehi-Isfahani (2009) argues that the demographic changes connected with the growth in numbers of the urban population, as well as with substantial poverty rate decreases, led to significant changes in the economic situation of many ordinary Iranians. In a similar vein, Ehsani (2009) surmises that Islamic regime succeeded in carrying out the major economic integration of various regions and localities of Iran, further contributing to its socio-economic development.
Thus, as asserted by F. Leverett and H. M. Leverett (2013), any U.S. hopes on the sudden and rapid collapse of the Iranian government under the weight of protests and economic sanctions would be largely misplaced. The Islamic Republic remains a viable state actor that would remain in place for the years to come. Therefore, it should be treated as such in its relations with the USA.
Nevertheless, the usual approach of the succeeding American governments to the development of relations with Iran has mainly been based on the sporadic negotiations interspersed with often vocal accusations of Iran's promotion of terrorism that have of late become centered upon the development of the Iranian nuclear program (Tirman, 2009; Mousavian, 2013). One may assume that at the heart of the U.S. diplomacy's strategy toward the Islamic Republic lies an assumption - sometimes implicit, but often explicit, - of the regime's essential illegitimacy and criminality, which would counter any genuine attempts on behalf of the U.S. and Iranian policymakers to come to the certain settlement. In the opinion of such active negotiators with Iran as Richard Dobbins (2010), certain opportunities with respect to the change in such situation have been opened by the effective collaboration between Iranian and the U.S. governments on the issues of countering the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the course of the post-9/11 developments. However, due to the unwillingness of the Bush administration to contemplate the exclusion of Iran from its "axis-of-evil" political narrative, as well as to countenance any viable cooperation with the moderate Khatami government, this opportunity for change was lost, contributing to the subsequent coming to power of a hard-line Ahmadinejad administration (Tirman, 2009; Dobbins, 2010).
Amirahmadi and ShahidSaless (2013) believe that the conventional model of a "carrot-and-stick" diplomacy with respect to Iran has ended in abject failure, as the factors of mutual mistrust and national pride countered its efficient implementation. In contrast, F. Leverett and H. M. Leverett (2013) suggest that a more straightforward approach should be used by the Obama administration. Proceeding from the experience of the "ping-pong" diplomacy utilized by Henry Kissinger in the course of the U.S-PRC relationship's normalization, these authors believe that a similar approach could contribute to the settlement of differences between the USA and Iran.
The Leveretts base their argument with respect to the need for a full-scale U.S. Presidential visit to Tehran (reflected in the very title of their 2013 book) on the assumption that the Iranian policymakers would be more interested in negotiating with the principal agents of the U.S. foreign policy, rather than with some intermediaries. This claim may be bolstered by similar observations by Dobbins (2010) and Tirman (2009), who both mention a number of instances when the Iranian high-ranking officials turned to their American vis-a-vis with the confidential proposals of negotiations or settlement of such important issues as the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, evidently hoping for direct talks, only to be rebuked and spurned with further accusations of terrorism. Consequently, one may agree with the Leveretts' thesis on the need for the more personalized approach towards the negotiations with the Islamic regime would require the effective cancellation of the years of mutual mistrust and terrorism-driven hostile narratives that would be far more difficult to implement. Nonetheless, the experience of the Maoist China, which was just as repugnant to conservative American politicians, as Iran is now, demonstrates that such endeavor may be possible and worth initial efforts.