With the aim of stretching our imaginations about the steps the United States could take to counter the threats from Iran, Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council has assembled essays, mostly by conservative authors, on exploiting economic vulnerabilities (Berman), activating human rights concerns about Iran (Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.), reaching out to ordinary Iranians (Robert Schadler, Bijan Kian, and Berman), relying on deterrence despite the many dangers that would represent (James Robbins), working with allies who will not do much (Stephen Blank), planning for conflict (John Sigler), countering further proliferation if Iran goes nuclear (Robert Pfaltzgraff, Jr.), and acquiring better intelligence (John Wobensmith).
Several authors emphasize that the United States faces hard choices about Iran. Unfortunately, the essays are weakest at explaining what those hard choices might be. In particular, the authors do not spell out the implications of Iran's multifaceted challenge to U.S. interests; indeed, they rarely discuss Iran's support for the insurgency in Iraq, the hundreds of millions of dollars it spends each year arming those fighting to wipe out Israel (especially, but not limited to, Hamas and Hezbollah), and its subversion of Persian Gulf monarchies. They barely confront the difficult issue of whether U.S. interests would be well served by a deal ending Iran's nuclear program if it left untouched all the other Iranian threats to regional peace, especially if that deal also was seen by ordinary Iranians as abandoning their hopes for a democratic, secular regime. At the very least, the authors could have given the readers some guidance about how to think through these trade-offs.
The authors present many ideas about how to pressure Iran. Unfortunately, the narrative generally stops there without consideration of what would happen next. Several of the measures discussed could trigger Iranian reactions that would be a real challenge for U.S. interests. For example, if the United States impeded Iranian oil exports, Iran might choose to harass shipping in the Persian Gulf. And even if Iran did nothing, the decreased Iranian oil exports would drive up world oil prices, enrich several unfriendly powers (Russia and Venezuela come to mind), and burden U.S. consumers.
The problem of how to apply pressure on Iran is not so much the lack of imagination that is the authors' favorite complaint. More important is an overly cautious stance borne of an awareness that each measure could create new problems. The way to counter such policy paralysis is to show how to think through the action-reaction process. And on that point, this volume is not particularly strong.