Obama’s jiu-jitsu: Iranian edition

Ahmadinejad and Khatami are now backing away from direct talks, and looking damned silly in the process.

Add the Iranian theocrats to the long list of opponents Barack Obama has wrong-footed by staying calm:

Since 2006, Iran’s leaders have called for direct, unconditional talks with the United States to resolve international concerns over their nuclear program. But as an American administration open to such negotiations prepares to take power, Iran’s political and military leaders are sounding suddenly wary of President-elect Barack Obama.


For Iran’s leaders, the only state of affairs worse than poor relations with the United States may be improved relations. The Shiite Muslim clerics who rule the country came to power after ousting Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a U.S.-backed autocrat, in their 1979 Islamic revolution. Opposition to the United States, long vilified as the “great Satan” here in Friday sermons, remains one of the main pillars of Iranian politics.

Falling oil prices are not good for the regime in Teheran, which is not popular either with the young or with the urban middle class. The theocrats thrive on foreign threats. If suddenly the U.S. is offering talks and Iran is backing away, the Iranian leadership looks a little bit silly in the eyes of its domestic audience as well as in the eyes of its international peers. Our best long-term hope is what might be termed “soft regime change”: standing back and letting the regime, deprived of its “external Satan,” fall of its own domestic political weight.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com