This phrase is taken from a favorite philosopher of mine, Alfred Korzybski. As the URL of the blog implies, I am a Persophile and much of what I write will likely pertain to Iran and the Persian people. My interests are diverse however, and I will also be writing about anything and everything else that inspires me. The photo is of Azadi Tower in Tehran, Iran, built in 1971. Azadi means 'freedom' or 'liberty' in Persian (Farsi)
Friday, October 2, 2015
A clear long-term policy towards Iran is more important than the Iran Deal (published on The Eastern Project)
Last week I wrote for The Eastern Project about the myopia of policy makers and pundits in addressing the Iran issue. In particular the lack of a long-term strategy is concerning.
While the political establishment and the media are fighting over the JCPOA’s particulars, a long term strategy for dealing with Iran is lacking, and potentially just as troublesome. Though there appear to be several distinct possibilities, there is no real discussion on this matter. The options include; forced regime change, self-democratization, or a non-interventionist hands-off ‘laissez faire’ approach.
Another, more complex approach, would be to continue working with Iran in some areas of mutual concern (ISIS), while opposing Iran in other areas (Yemen). Despite some merits, this approach is reactive and therefore is not a solid, long-term strategy. It fails to address the disruptive anti-Western nature of the Iranian regime; a threat the West cannot afford to ignore indefinitely.
When any part of Iran’s leadership takes a leftward turn, hardliners block attempted reforms.
There are two prominent examples of this reactionary response.
Reformist Mohammad Khatami was president of Iran for 8 years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, winning both elections in surprising landslides. However, he was hampered by entrenched conservative institutions, and was unable to affect substantive reform.
It is reasonable to argue that current president Hassan Rouhani is hindered by a similar quagmire, though if the results of the the March 2016 elections go his way, the President has some room to maneuver.
Iran’s ruling establishment is unwilling to consider reform, so what happens next? The relationship between Iran and the West cannot continue as is; the West will not tolerate Iran’s support for terror and other disruptive practices indefinitely.
Popular among libertarians and anti-imperialists, a strict non-interventionist role is unrealistic and ignores American (and Western) interests in preserving order and maintaining the status quo. Whether we like it or not, the global economy is dependent on a stabilizing force, and the United States is the state most capable of enforcing global hegemony.
Economic sanctions are capable of changing Iran’s behavior, but there is a limit to what they can do. It is near impossible to accurately gauge the power of sanctions, and therefore difficult to know exactly how they may be applied most effectively.
The nuclear-related sanctions were effective because a broad coalition was formed. A similarly comprehensive international effort would need to be created for economic sanctions with an end-goal of regime change. This will not happen.
Another regime change option, a full-scale military invasion would require a massive number of troops, and would unimaginably destabilize the region even further. Recent regional examples show the impracticality and unpredictability of this type of action.
Supporting democratic institutions in Iran is also a daunting prospect. Too much, and Iranians will perceive foreign interference. Too little, and the conservative factions will even further solidify their control of the government.
There are many Iranians that are unhappy with the direction the Iranian government is driving the country (evidenced by the 1999 student protests, as well as the 2009 and 2013 presidential elections); considering this, a shift leftwards is not inconceivable. At the same time, reformist and pragmatist groups need room to operate.
The Islamic Republic has the ability to accommodate reformists and adapt to reflect the will of the people. A distinguishing characteristic of Iran’s official religion (Twelver Shi’a Islam) is Ijtihad — religious scholars reinterpreting Islam. While the ruling structure of the Islamic Republic is very conservative at the moment, one would think that this characteristic gives it the capability to change despite how entrenched the conservative structures are.
Iran’s confrontational attitude towards the West is unacceptable in the long run. Policy needs to be created and implemented. Even if the United States adopts an outwardly neutral stance, a serious discussion should be taking place about the future of the United States in the region and how Iran fits into these plans. How can Iran be dealt with and what are the implications of our actions in the short and in the long term?
The Iran Deal has put the hardliners in Iran under pressure. They need a comeback and to secure a conservative Majles and Assembly of Experts to prevent Rouhani from enacting reforms. The Reformists and Pragmatists are empowered by the potential success of the Iran Deal and have the initiative.
Both Iran Deal critics and proponents have an obligation to look at the big picture and determine what we want and how we are going to get there. Who will be empowered by our actions, and not only in the short-term. Is there hope for diplomacy? How does this deal factor into long-term strategy?
The forced regime change camp needs to identify exactly how they wish this regime change to occur, whether they wish to put economic pressure or whether they will resort to full-scale war to achieve their end-goal.
The diplomacy and self-democratization camp as well needs to do much more in explaining how they expect Iran to change, how these changes will be encouraged, and how this will be accepted by the Iranian public.
The non-interventionists need to reconcile American hegemony with Iran’s regional ambitions and explain how the conflict is not serious, and existential from the Iranian regime’s side.
While most agree that the United States and Iran are engaged in a serious ideological conflict, the long-term implications of this conflict are mostly ignored. It is by no means the most serious problem facing the United States and the West, but a blind focus on the microcosm that is the nuclear issue does no favors. While the Obama administration has tried to ‘pivot’ towards Asia, the reality is that the Middle East remains restive and the problems there will not simply disappear. Something has to be done so that Iran changes its disruptive, violent behavior. To do this, a clear and reasonable proactive policy to achieve these changes must be created and implemented.