Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the United States has pursued a series of failed policies toward Iran. It has variously sought to topple the regime, threatened military action and proposed strictly limited dialogue—all with an eye toward boxing Tehran in and limiting its influence in the region. This strategy of “containment” continues to dominate U.S. policy.
President George W. Bush repeatedly insists that “all options are on the table”—a not-so-subtle reminder that Washington might yet use force to halt Tehran's nuclear program. Yet realistically, the United States has no military option. Iran has dispersed many nuclear facilities and hardened others. Even if U.S. forces could find and destroy those targets—quality intelligence is a serious hurdle—they could be rebuilt relatively quickly. The bottom line: Washington must accept certain distasteful facts—beginning with Iran’s ascendance as a regional power and the staying power of its regime. It should open talks with Iran, not in order to limit its growing power—an impossibility—but with a view toward regulating it and curbing potential excesses. In other words, Washington should embrace a policy of détente, just as it did in the past with such seemingly intractable enemies as China and the Soviet Union.