Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dealing with Iran

If there is one thing I know about bullies, the only thing they respect is one's ability to hit them back. I think this applies especially to Iran. The military dictatorship there has calculated that America has no appetite for military engagement with Iran, so they move blithely forward on their nuclear weapons program, occasionally offering the prospects of negotiation to forestall the unpleasantness of tougher sanctions. In the meantime, the Obama administration started its relationship with the Iranians on the assumption that the President's oratory would leave the Iranian leadership so spell bound that there would be serious negotiations on the issue of nuclear weapons. We know how that worked out.

A little analysis of the self interest of the leadership is in order. First, Iran has turned into a military dictatorship. Order is maintained by Hezbollah thugs imported from Syria and Lebanon, suggesting the regime is fundamentally weak, because it is unpopular. In the same linked article, Michael Ledeen points out the inability of the regime to turn out to celebrate the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini. From history we know that such regimes use foreign adventures and war to maintain popularity at home. Here is where the nuclear program comes in. First, by bringing the regime into sharp conflict with the United States, it shores up its own legitimacy. Iranians may loathe Ahmadinejad, but they also remember that the U.S. propped up the Shah. Second, if they were to obtain nuclear weapons, it would give them much greater freedom of action in the middle east. Their adversaries and the U.S. would have to add the risk of nuclear war to the calculus of confronting Iran. I am not convinced they would attack Israel, except as a last resort; unfortunately, I contemplate a future that includes last resorts for this brutal regime.

I frankly don't know what the latest sanctions that been proposed for Iran to deter them are. I don't care, because unless they stop the flow of dollars for oil, or prevent Iran from importing gasoline, they will have little effect. We aren't going to war either, certainly not under this President; but I never thought that a prudent course of action anyway.

What we could do, however, is to hit back in a way that threatens the existence of the regime. From a Washington Post editorial (of all places):

But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to "unleash America's full moral power to support the Iranian people." Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith -- "an assumption," Mr. McCain noted, that "seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime."

The senator proposed "a different goal: to mobilize our friends and allies in like-minded countries, both in the public sphere and the private sector, to challenge the legitimacy of this Iranian regime, and to support Iran's people in changing the character of their government -- peacefully, politically, on their own terms and in their own ways."

I think there are some other things to be done. The same editorial discusses monies appropriated to help Iranians bypass the censors' firewalls, but of course our State Department has not spent that money. We can step up broadcasts from opponents of the regime, including over satellite. We can buy time on Persian language radio in Los Angeles, which is widely listened to Iran. Most importantly, we need to continue to show ordinary Iranians what an embarrassment Ahmadinejad is. Letting him address the U.N. and Universities should not be seen as a move for ourselves, but as playing to the Iranian public. Ethnic Persians make up the majority of Iran's population. They have a long and proud history as a people and a civilization. The current regime embarrasses them by its buffoonery and the use of foreigners to suppress dissent. Ridicule against this regime and providing practical help to the opposition is our best bet to defuse the current nuclear program.

Will the opposition wish to end the nuclear program? It is not guaranteed, but I guarantee you that the military dictatorship will not. Possessing nuclear weapons is not in the best interests of the Iranian people, who would gain no benefit from them and would incur considerable risk. If true democracy came to Iran, I believe that their leaders would come to believe that as well.


  1. the president has hesitated to "unleash America's full moral power to support the Iranian people."

    Duh, that's because he doesn't believe in any moral authority, our human rights abuses (Arizona Nazi-like behavior for example) keep us from having any moral authority.

  2. 'Dawg, yep. It's embarrassing.