JUST AS America shakes off its recent prolonged election cycle, Iran will be entering a presidential race of its own. As President Obama takes office, he must decide whether we will make a change to our long-standing Iran policy, and on what timeline. The United States can continue treating Iran as a permanent enemy to be confronted and isolated, thereby perpetuating the policies of the past three administrations. Or it can begin treating the Islamic Republic as a potentially "normal" power-subject to the usual blandishments of carrots and sticks. This accepts that Tehran has the capacity not only to annoy us but perhaps also to help ease some of Washington's worst dilemmas in the region.
Candidate Obama famously indicated that he would be prepared to open substantive talks with Iran-with proper preparation. But several of his advisers openly favor policies that would make meaningful dialogue difficult, if not impossible. The eventual decision will not only be contested but is certain to be hugely complicated by the poisonous domestic political climates in both Tehran and Washington. In both capitals, there are powerful political factions that thrive on the state of permanent hostility and reinforce each other through an extreme rhetoric of fear.