Yuri Yarim-Agaev offers a methodical approach to the topic, explaining key general characteristics common to authoritarian regimes, including intrinsic opposition to US interests. As a result, according to Yarim-Agaev, regime change is the only viable solution to security threats from rogue actors. He argues that Ronald Reagan’s strategy for fostering peaceful change from within was proven effective during the Cold War and is an equally viable strategy for dealing with contemporary authoritarian regimes.
Secretary George Shultz’s work alongside Ronald Reagan in crafting Cold War strategy and negotiating with Soviet leaders adds a valuable firsthand dimension to the discussion. Shultz outlines President Reagan’s diplomatic “playbook”: execute against your word, be realistic, lay a strong hand, and know your agenda, illustrated with personal stories from his experience in executive office. He also applies these lessons to current US relations with Iran and China, demonstrating a troubling deviation of today’s diplomacy from tested strategic principles.
Charles Wolf’s remarks center on fostering reform in China, offering a counterpoint to Yarim-Agaev’s focus on regime change and support for internal dissidents. According to Wolf, several avenues for further democratic evolution, political reform, and marketization exist within the People’s Republic of China’s existing institutional framework. He suggests that stimulating further interaction between professional organizations in the United States and their bureaucratic equivalents in the Chinese Communist Party is the most practical strategy for accelerating such reforms.
Kori Schake introduces economics to the discussion, describing effectively targeted sanctions as one of the most powerful diplomatic tools available to policy makers. She attributes the Reagan administration’s success in Cold War negotiations to pragmatism, including open lines of communication, recognizing opportunities for advancing the US agenda, building partnerships in the international community, and supporting ideological allies within rogue states. She also emphasizes the United States’ soft power as an intellectual influence on the world’s elites as a promising force for change.
According to Michael McFaul, some—but not all—of the lessons from Reagan’s Cold War diplomacy are applicable today, although, even under identical circumstances, the same strategy may not produce the same results. Applying this equivocal perspective to current issues in international relations, McFaul’s remarks give an informative overview of the challenging landscape faced by diplomats and strategists.
Abraham Sofaer argues that Reagan’s Cold War strategy offers important lessons for contemporary US policy toward Iran, despite Reagan’s failure to apply those lessons in his own negotiations with the Iranian regime. Recounting five principles from Reagan and Shultz’s diplomatic work with the Soviet Union, Sofaer shows how parties opposite the table can be effectively engaged without losing focus on the US agenda.
Abbas Milani focuses on Iran but paints a more complex picture of a state divided, with movements toward reform and international engagement clashing against authoritarian elements within the government. Stressing understanding a regime as a crucial prerequisite to effective strategy, Milani calls for targeted US policy toward Iran that bolsters movements for change and undermines support for the status quo.
Abbas Milani, a research fellow and codirector of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution, discusses ISIS, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the future of the Middle East. Successive US administrations have declared Iran to be one of America’s most serious national security threats. Yet the last four wars the US has fought in the region — in Afghanistan, in the two wars in Iraq and in the current war with ISIS—have resulted in either removing or containing Iran’s powerful adversaries.