IT IS HARD TO over-enthuse about this book. No one who wants to understand why the dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities has proved so intractable can hope to find a better-informed, more balanced or more readable account.
At one level, Trita Parsi’s A Single Roll of the Dice is an account of what happened in the 18 months after President Obama came to office promising a fresh approach to Iran. At a deeper level it is an analysis of the many factors that have bedevilled Western handling of the nuclear issue, and which continue to this day to impede rational policy-making and fruitful diplomacy.
Dr. Parsi believes Barack Obama was sincere when, during the 2008 Presidential campaign, he suggested that the US should talk to its adversaries to resolve differences, and that Obama’s offer of engagement on his first day in office was genuine. Yet by the late autumn of 2009 the President had abandoned all hope of a diplomatic breakthrough and had adopted his predecessor’s nostrum of sanctioning Iran into submission to America’s will. How did this come about?
Through a combination of factors, is the answer Parsi offers. Iranian mistrust of US politicians, and doubt whether the new President would be able to overcome opposition in Congress and in allied capitals precluded conciliatory, or creative responses to Obama’s initial extension of the hand of peace. The outcome of a review of Iran policy on which the new administration embarked closed down many options for diplomacy and saddled engagement with objectives and tactics that lengthened the odds on diplomacy yielding results. The disputed Iranian election in June 2009 (which Parsi believes was fraudulent) and the subsequent harsh repression of protests reduced US Congressional tolerance for engagement and sapped the President’s will to fight for a diplomatic approach.
Even so, the administration’s opening gambit could have resulted in the two sides taking their first steps out of a “paradigm of enmity” (Parsi’s phrase). The US offered to provide fuel pads and a security upgrade for an aging research reactor, one that produces medical isotopes, in exchange for Iran selling some of the low enriched uranium it had produced at the Natanz plant. President Ahmedinejad was in favor of the agreement, but domestic opponents objected. Within weeks the US lost patience, in effect transforming a confidence-building proposal into a take-it-or-be-sanctioned ultimatum — which Iran rejected.
Two of the most illuminating chapters in this book are those which recount how reluctant three of America’s most significant allies were to sign up to a fresh approach in 2009, and how well they succeeded in derailing Obama’s opening attempt at statesmanship. The positions held by those allies — Israel, UK, France — in early 2009 are, broadly, those they hold today. So these chapters help to explain why the Obama administration’s renewed emphasis on engagement earlier this year has, so far, fared no better.
The most demanding of the allies in 2009 was Israel. Recapitulating his remarkable study of the triangular relationship between Israel, the US and Iran, published in 2007 (Treacherous Alliance), Parsi documents the dramatic shift in the Israeli view of Iran that took place in 1992. Throughout the 1980s Israel had ignored the anti-Zionist vitriol that poured from the lips of Iran’s new revolutionary leaders and had sought to revive th...read more