February 19, 2015
As a senator campaigning for president, Barack Obama promised a new era of diplomacy. In a 2007 debate, he declared it “ridiculous” that “not talking to countries is punishment to them.” Then, soon after taking his oath of office, he made outreach to rogue regimes the cornerstone of his strategy, promising states like Iran that he would “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Fast forward six years, and Obama has kept his promise, engaging in the most high-level, open talks with the Islamic Republic since the Islamic Revolution 36 years before.
It’s unclear, however, whether negotiators will reach an agreement to address concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and it is even less certain that such an agreement would lead to a wholesale reconciliation between Tehran and Washington. Nevertheless, Obama’s efforts have raised Iran to be a marquee foreign policy issue which every candidate will have to address should he or she win the marathon and take the White House. Answering the five questions below should give clarity to any future president’s understanding of Iran and approach toward the Iranian challenge.
1. Is Iran a democracy?
Iran holds contested presidential elections every four years, but does this make Iran a democracy? After all, less than one percent of those candidates who sought to run for election in the 2013 cycle actually ended up on the final ballot. If Iran isn’t a democracy, however, should it impact policy? If given a choice to side with the Iranian people or the regime that claims to represent them, where should the balance of American attention be? Obama famously addressed his Nowruz (Iranian New Year) greeting to the Islamic Republic of Iran, rather than Iranians themselves as previous presidents had. Should the new president revert to the old formula of talking directly to the Iranian people?
Read the full article at the American Enterprise Institute: 5 questions every presidential candidate should answer: Iran edition