People have been emailing me recently about my review of the Leveretts' new book, "Going to Tehran", which I mentioned in an earlier post. I thought it was a great book then, and still do so, even though people have complained about a variety of issues, for example the suggestion that Iran had an active role in the US Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon. I consider these to be a matter of dispute over emphasis rather than factual accuracy. In any case, disputes over these minor issues do not really distract from the main point of their argument in favor of a "Nixon goes to China" resolution to the current US-Iran standoff.
However, I do have a complaint that does related to their broader argument. Nixon's decision to recognize China, in retrospect of course, was inevitable. It was simply a logical move in any 3-person game: the two who can most quickly combine against the remaining one, win a temporary advantage. It is a matter of creating an "odd man out". In the case of the US and China, Nixon's move was within the context of a conflict with the Soviets, which served as its motive. With one fell swoop, Nixon brought one-quarter of humanity closer to the US, and farther away from the Soviets. But even though it was such an obvious and logical move, it was also quite brilliant the way Nixon simply decided to turn the ship of state on a dime, and dismantle almost overnight an entire aparatus of policy and substitute an entirely new and contrary one in its stead.
But in the case of the US-Iran standoff, there is no third party to play a role comparable to the Soviets. It IS a three-party game -- the US, Iran, and Israel -- but the relations between the parties are different. In Nixon's days, the Soviets and Chinese were in a basically antagonistic relationship, which created a wedge that Nixon exploited to make the Soviets the odd man out. Today, the Israelies and the US are in a cooperative (if not co-opted) relationship, and Iran is the odd-man out.
So, under such conditions, how realistic is the argument in favor of a "Nixon going to China" approach when it comes to Iran? Not very, I'm afraid. So while I agree with the argument posited by the Leveretts regarding a policy choice that would benefit the US in the long run, I don't see the sufficient commitment nor the willingness to take political risk that would be required for such a gambit to ever actually occur.