Vali Nasr is an Iranian-American political commentator and scholar of contemporary Islam. Born in Iran, Nasr and his family immigrated to the United States following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Nasr received a BA from Tufts University in 1981 and a masters from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1984. He earned his PhD from MIT in political science in 1991.
Known for his view that wars within Islam will shape the future, Nasr has testified before Congress and has advised the President and Vice-President regarding sectarian violence in Iraq. Nasr is the author The Shia Revival, Democracy in Iran, and The Islamic Leviathan.
He has taught at the University of San Diego and the Naval Postgraduate School, and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard and Professor of International Politics at Tufts. A Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Nasr has been published in Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Time, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others. He is an editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Islam and has appeared on CNN, the BBC, National Public Radio, and not least of all The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.
Question: Is the U.S. headed for war with Iran?
Vali Nasr: Well you know the saber rattling rhetoric has gone up, has gone down. But the reality is that the U.S. has a large number of forces sitting in the Persian Gulf with capability to at least conduct an air war against Iran. And the reality is that the [U.S.] administration and many western countries – including also Russia, and in this case also China, have said that a nuclear Iran is not an option, is not acceptable.
Now if that’s the case, if there is no change of attitude there, then the only issue is, how are you going to prevent that? Because the current strategy over the past four or five years [circa between 2002 and 2007] has not worked. In other words, there have not been successful negotiations. Subcontracting U.S. foreign policy to Europeans has not worked, and Iran has continued to expand its capabilities.
So either the United States has to adopt a completely different diplomatic approach, believing that the current diplomatic approach is insufficient; or it has to prevent Iran otherwise, which means that through some kind of use of force. And the current trend of this administration [i.e. the George W. Bush administration], in my belief, is that the U.S. has never been really serious about talking to Iran. There is talk of talking to Iran, but there has not been really serious engagement of Iran.
And when it’s happened, there’s been ad hoc, like in Afghanistan in 2002, with successful engagement; but then the U.S. suggested it didn’t want to continue and put Iran in axis of evil.
On Iraq it has been very limited engagement. On the nuclear issues there’s been no engagement. And as a result, you could see that this administration is beholden to the goal of no nuclear Iran, and does not really want to think about any option that involves a more serious diplomatic engagement.
So the conclusion is that it’s probably going to go down the path of escalating tensions. Now whether it comes to war is contingent on many things – domestic politics, elections, international support, etc. But we’re not seeing progress in a positive direction here.
Recorded on: Dec 3, 2007