It is clear that if U.S. and Iranian political leaders continue down the present course they will almost certainly lead us into another bloody war. Out of empathy for those who will do the fighting and dying, here are a few things they can do to avert conflict:
- U.S Political Leaders: Have the courage to stand up publicly to AIPAC lobbyists and their supporters who would pressure you to send our troops into another preventive war. While it remains unclear whether the Ayatollah Khamenei is sincere or engaging in strategic deception when he says that nuclear weapons are forbidden to Iran, he is almost certainly more likely to pursue them if he feels that his government is being backed into a corner with no way out.
- Iranian Political Leaders: Disavow statements made by President Ahmadinejad that have been interpreted as genocidal toward Israel. Your president's threatening statements in the context of your nation's nuclear pursuits -- whether peaceful or not -- have arguably done more harm to your cause than almost any other statement you've made or action you've taken. Israel not only appears to be poised to attack you unilaterally but will probably draw the U.S. in as well if it does. Your president's inflammatory and threatening rhetoric may result in a conflict that will likely cause great suffering to you and your people. On the other hand, the international community would undoubtedly be more open to your pursuit of nuclear energy if you distanced yourself from such irresponsible and seemingly irrational statements.
- U.S. Political Leaders: Stand up for American principles by imposing real political and economic costs on Israel for its settlement expansions and denial of Palestinian rights. Continued economic aid should no longer be a given but, rather, should be contingent upon the Israeli government's demonstrated progress in this area. American policymakers' selective application of human rights standards on this issue is an affront to the Muslim world as well as to American values and can only exacerbate the U.S.-Iran diplomatic situation.
- Iranian Political Leaders: Fully comply with IAEA inspections to allay the international community's concerns over alleged clandestine nuclear weapons sites. Time is needed to build trust. Set aside your pride and compromise on higher levels of uranium enrichment in order to avoid provoking U.S. and Israeli alarm. Viewing the unfolding of events from the U.S., it appears that American policymakers are poised to make the same foolish mistake they made with Saddam Hussein: that the absence of proof that your government is not engaged in nefarious activities means that you must be. Don't play into the hands of U.S. and Israeli hawks by playing Saddam's guessing game.
- U.S. Political Leaders: Acknowledge the courage behind such concessions if Iranian leaders commit to them and offer them more in return: not only alleviation of sanctions but positive economic and political incentives as well.
While there is no guarantee that these steps will lead to a peaceful outcome, continuing down the current road will only lead to greater economic deprivation and bloodshed. Though the current diplomatic impasse may appear insurmountable, commit to a renewed effort while there is still time. You owe it to the men and women you will be sending into battle if you fail.
Thomas J. Buonomo is a former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy with a dual degree in Political Science and Middle East Studies and is pursuing graduate studies in International Affairs at George Washington University.