Contain and Engage

I’ve finally gotten the chance to get through Joseph Cirincione’s report for the Center for American Progress on recommended Iran policy options. They come out in favor of a sensible strategy they call “contain and engage.” The basic idea is that you maintain a running dialogue with Iran offering carrots in exchange for verifiable steps at disarmament, while simultaneously maintaining a running dialogue with America’s main allies and the other major powers about ratcheting-up Iran’s diplomatic and economic isolation. The idea is to ensure that the United States is consistently the reasonable party, consistently the one prepared to strike a deal, and therefore that international diplomatic momentum remains on our side.

Among sensible people this is one major school of thought. The other, represented by Flynt Leverett’s late 2006 report for the Century Foundations holds that we should be aiming at a “grand bargain” to resolve all the outstanding bilateral issues. This is, obviously, an appealing vision. The Center’s authors say they “agree with the vision of a ‘grand bargain’ outlined by Middle East expert and former Bush administration official Flynt Leverett, who argues that the resolution of the nuclear issue requires ‘an overarching framework in which outstanding bilateral differences are resolved as a package'” but that they think this is “not practical.” Leverett, by contrast, thinks it’s not practical to separate the issues.

I have no idea how to decide who’s right about that, but it’s a pretty small difference at the end of the day, since “engage and contain” could easily become “grand bargain” if the “engage” track seemed headed in that direction. It would be nice to have sensible people running the country.