The Islamic Republic of Iran has developed a reputation as a threat to international security and stability. Its current pursuit of nuclear power has added a new chapter to its long story of menacing behavior. But while the international community has come to the conclusion that the Islamic Republic must be prevented from attaining a nuclear bomb, it has not resolved on how exactly to achieve this.
A variety of strategies abound as to how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. Two of these strategies have become more increasingly debated with the passage of time. The first option offers military action against Iran while the second encourages dialogue with the Iranian government. Neither course of action, however, will achieve sustainable results. A third, often-overlooked option, however, provides a much more peaceful and viable alternative.
Before beginning an analysis of the fallacies of the attack or negotiate policy dilemma, we must define the parameters of the problem we have set out to solve. We regularly hear of people in politics, media, and academia refer to the “Iranian” threat. Let’s begin by defining “Iranian.” Is the threat that has imperiled the world and startled its leaders really “Iranian”? Not exactly. Our problem is certainly not with the Iranian people. It is with the Islamic Republic (I hesitate in even calling the aforementioned state the government of Iran – many Iranians would not!). Therefore, in contemplating how we should approach the danger posed by the Islamic Republic, we must begin by defining its relationship with the Iranian people. A crash course for those of us less familiar with this twisted relationship should highlight several points: 1) The Islamic Republic does not represent the Iranian people (there are no free elections, candidates are vetted, real power lies in the hands of the unelected Supreme Leader and his network). Therefore, the Iranian people cannot affect change in the system by participating in elections and other “democratic” processes.
2) The Islamic Republic is terribly unpopular (more appropriate terms may include ridiculed and loathed). If it were not so, candidates would not be vetted, publications would not be censored, and astronomical sums of money would not be spent to control, oppress, and intimidate the masses.
3) The Islamic Republic, to the Iranian people, is preferable, as a homegrown monster, to any foreign oppressive force, be it American, European, or otherwise. That is, despite the strained relationship between the Iranian people and the Islamic Republic, the people of Iran will rally behind their country (and necessarily, their state) in the case of an attack by foreign powers.
Having addressed, these points, we can now move on to an analysis of the options we have for preventing Iran from achieving nuclear power. We begin with the option of war. For obvious reasons, including the loss of human life, war should not be an option. Furthermore, military action will more likely strengthen the Iranian government than weaken it. While we can leave the complexities of attacking a country like Iran to the military experts, we should point out that the people of Iran would rally behind their state in the case of war.
Unlike its neighbors, and much of the rest of the third world, the state of Iran rests on the foundations of the ancient nation of Iran. The territorial integrity of Iran is completely intact, despite millennia of religious, political, and social upheaval. Iran is not a country drawn up by colonialists, nor is its populations loosely united by the forces of political or economic expediency. Instead, Iranians are a fiercely proud and nationalistic people, and despite their problems with the current government, it is unlikely that they will welcome outside force as a solution. Therefore, military action will further entrench the Iranian government, taking attention away from other important domestic issues and setting back the Iranian democratic movement immeasurably. We next consider dialogue, or negotiations with the Islamic Republic.
In general, dialogue works when the parties to the talks are trustworthy and their actions are transparent. What have the leaders of the Islamic Republic shown us in the past 30 years besides words and actions that would encourage us to draw anything but the opposite conclusion about them? In addition, we must not overlook the fact that the very nature of the Islamic Republic is rooted in its opposition to the West and the United States. The Supreme Leader of Iran has openly stated that he is not interested in talking with the United States. Indeed, for an authoritarian regime like the one in Iran, an enemy like the United States supplies the ideology upon which the system stands. Friendship with the U.S. would spell the end of the Islamic Republic as we know it.
Furthermore, if dialogue will not succeed in changing the Islamic Republic’s behavior, it may achieve the betrayal and alienation of the only friends we have in Iran – the Iranian citizens! The Iranian population, unlike the population of all our other friends and enemies in the region, is young, western-friendly, and passionately opposed to the Islamic Republic. Why would we negotiate with their enemy and what message would that send to them? That leads us to our conclusion: the third option. Why not focus our energy and resources on dialogue with the Iranian people? Why not mobilize our forces to help them achieve their goals, all of which seem to lie in accord with ours? Why not let them fight the battle to establish a new Iran that respects and represents them?
Indeed, the government of Iran fears the miniskirts under Iranian manteau’s more than the B1 Bombers of the United States. War will strengthen the regime and give it more fuel for its twisted anti-American, anti-Western mission and purpose. Talks will achieve nothing, most likely because they will never go forward, but also because they will alienate the Iranian people, among whom we find our most valuable allies. How, exactly, do we pursue this third option? Well, there are many ways we can. First, we must begin by devoting just as much attention to internal Iranian issues as we do to Iranian foreign policy. Everything should not just be about nuclear power or holocaust denials.
In fact, those issues are where Iran is strongest (many people sympathize with them on those issues). But what will the Iranian government say when we expose the atrocities it commits on a daily basis against the Iranian people? How will it defend its countless violations of human rights? Newsflash: Innocent Woman Stoned in Iran. How does that sound? I can hear the Islamic Republic crumbling as I type. Why not also expose the terrible corruption of the ruling clerics in Iran?
On other levels, we must encourage business interests to stop conducting business with Iran, directly or indirectly. We must freeze and boycott Iranian interests and businesses abroad. Meanwhile, we can promote greater cultural exchange with the Iranian people. And all the while, we can continue to support democratic and secular Iranian opposition groups and help them unite to achieve a goal that we all share in common: a free, democratic, secular Iran.
Saeed Ganji; Ph.D., Sc.D. Secretary General National Union For Democracy in Iran, Washington, D.C.
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