President Obama’s recent executive order freezing the assets of Iran’s clerical regime is another step in the right direction, bringing immediate pressure on Tehran. But a more significant move and quite possibly a game-changer would be an executive order, with close congressional consultation, to commit material and policy support for the aspirations of the Iranian people.
According to former intelligence officials, the psychological boost of such an act alone by the president will cause a paradigm shift within the Iranian political world.
The fundamental premise of such an order would be to correct the failure of successive administrations to counter the Iranian regime’s covert and overt policy of low-intensity war with America.
First, the executive order would design programs to boost both public and private support and funding to leading universities in the U.S. to draw up blueprints for an Iranian renaissance. This effort would be supervised by leading Americans of Iranian decent covering fields of high-tech, medicine, energy, commerce and infrastructure. An American-Iranian partnership could start with a Disney-style theme park based in Shiraz, Iran's millennia-old capital city, as a means to boost tourism. Iran’s neighbor Turkey, generates over $20 billion annually from tourism. Or, it could make the case for how solar energy not nuclear best serves Iran’s future interests. Currently American scientists of Iranian descent at elite institutions such as MIT, Stanford and Berkeley are making inroads on incorporating nanoparticles into the next generation of vastly more efficient solar panels. Imagine if Iran’s vast Loot Desert were to be cultivated as a solar farm, it would yield enough clean electricity to feed its national grid and support regional exports.
Second, the presidential order should bring serious and immediate attention to Voice of America’s – Persian News Network (VOA PNN), boosting programming to present a more serious content into Iran, much like our broadcasts into the Soviet Union, serving as a daily dose of the truth, this time for millions behind an Islamist curtain.
At its peak 20 million viewers used to tune into a hard-hitting VOA programming into Iran. I experienced the power of speaking the truth as an analyst for the VOA PNN from 2004-2009. Every Tuesday I would dissect the conduct and failures of the regime in addition to assessing the opportunity costs of the Islamic Republic for the Iranian people. My immediate feedback from daring callers inside Iran was exhilarating: convincing me that America’s greatest allies in Iran are not dubious “elements within the regime” that periodically wink and nod hints of a “grand-bargain with the west,” but the 70 million Iranians simply wanting a better life. VOA’s PNN is arguably the single most important asset of U.S. diplomacy as it concerns Iran.
Third, instead of centering our Iran policy solely on the regime's “dangerous nuclear weapons program” Washington should bring equal, if not more, focus on the Islamist regime’s abhorrent human rights violations against its citizenry. Ambassador Susan Rice would have a compelling case to put the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations front and center at the Security Council. A more vociferous highlighting of Neda’s murder, daily torture of Ayatollah Boroujerdi or persecution of ethnic and faith minorities in Iran such as the Bahais will do wonders in dulling the veneer of the “promise” of an Islamic Republic throughout a region whose streets are often impressed by the regime’s well-designed rhetoric.
Fourth, the NSA and search engines such as Google should unleash tools to assist Iranians to counter the army of Chinese hackers and cyber censors hired by the regime. Iranians are the highest regional users of the Internet and the blogosphere, making the digital world a powerful tool to help satisfy their thirst to learn the truth, communicate and organize.
Finally, cell phones embedded with hack-proof chips should be flooded into Iran, in the millions, enabling the young to broaden their circles without the worry of regime intercept or disruptions during times of public unrest.
Detractors from the academic community, self-proclaimed representatives of the Iranian community in America, certain business interests and elements within his own circle of advisors will undoubtedly move against and undermine the implementation of such a policy. But President Obama should be made aware that this is not a repeat of 1953 and that the people of Iran are thinking about their future not past. America’s failed attempt to restore the Shah to power has been dredged time and again by apologists for the regime in order to freeze America from having a pro-active policy on Iran.
If the President wants to go down in history as a transformative leader, at least in terms of US foreign policy on Iran, he should be bold and sign the executive order, thus making a compelling case that America will stand for liberty and democracy in Iran.
If President Obama fails to act, Congress must fill this leadership role and support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom.
First published in thehill.com.
Sobhani is the CEO of the Caspian Group (www.caspiangroup.com). Since the tragic events of 9/11, the Caspian Group has been invited to consult with senior officials from the United States Government to devise strategies that can help the United States and its allies win the war on terrorism.
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