A reader writes:
This is not the strongest argument against engagement, the strongest argument is regime stability. If you think that the regime will fall in a year if not months then engagement with the regime is just destroying US's political capital among the Iranian public. What do you get in return? Do you expect the new government recognize all the deals that were made in the last days of the previous regime? This is why from the beginning the Leveretts dispute the idea that the election was stolen (well they say there is no hard evidence!), that the green movement has any force whatsoever or that the regime is in any immediate danger.
People tend to forget but regime's problems are not contained to legitimacy and political issues. The far bigger problem is the finances of the Iranian government.
With the removal of subsidies and the devaluation of Rial (the Iranian currency) against the dollar you will have runaway inflation and an angry public. For example the Ahmadinejad government has already delayed the removal of gas subsidy for 3 months; now it is set to expire at the start of the summer instead of winter. Another example from everyday life in Tehran is that while the law to implement a 3% VAT was scrapped due to protests several years ago, the government owned have started to collect it these days. The Iranian government won't survive this without a major spike in the oil prices or a military attack from Israel/USA.
My response to Mr. Leverett's call for engagement would be "why now?" If you are right and US has not engaged Iran properly for the past 31 years then just wait another 6 months.
I enjoyed the lively debate here on this while I was gone. At this point, I feel we are at a moment when the benefits of being open to engagement - as a way to avoid the regime playing the Great Satan card against the Greens and to remind the international community that it is Tehran and not Washington that is the problem - are drawing to a close. We should now be focusing on targeted sanctions and getting the Chinese on board, with Russian help. This still won't be easy.
But it's the strongest hand we have to play (even though it's not as emotionally satisfying as neoconning them with a megaphone); and it's the last option before containment. Then we have to prevent Netanyahu giving Ahmedinejad exactly what he wants. And if you think getting sanctions in place will be hard ...