Saturday, November 06, 2004

What to do about Iran

With the controversy swirling around the Iranian Nuclear program, the nation has, once again, become the focus of US attention. Unlike the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979, the current dispute with the Iranian government, over the potential development of nuclear weapons, has REAL security implications for the US and for other nations in the region. This is not a case of the pride of the US potentially being bruised, as was the case with the hostage crisis, there is real potential of armed conflict over this issue. The difference between the US in 1979 and 2004 is striking; we currently have an administration that is not adverse to taking military action to protect its security, we do not have Jimmy Carter as president, we currently have a strong military presence in the region.

These facts have not been lost on the Iranian government, which explains, I think, the Iranians “endorsement” of George Bush as President. Wait, you say, why does the fact that the current US administration’s willingness to possibly take military action against Iran actually causes them to prefer George Bush?

This one is a little complicated but try to follow me. I believe that the Iranian regime’s days are numbered, not from external force but from internal forces. They know this. In an effort to distract internal opposition and build patriotism, they have launched an expensive, dangerous nuclear program. In this endeavor it is important to have a US administration that will pay attention to Iran and serve as a rallying point for the population. George Bush is perfect for this situation because, with ongoing military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, he will be willing to negotiate a settlement that will not threaten the Iranian government. John Kerry would not have been a good US leader, in Iranian eyes, because he probably wouls have ended the Iraq mission early, leaving US forces free for an attack (not that they had much fear of that). More importantly, Kerry would have been much more willing to pursue economic sanctions through the UN, which could actually play against the Iranian government’s stability.

This logic would seem to indicate that the Iranian opposition should be more encouraged by a John Kerry presidency. Why, then, are they cheering George Bush’s re-election? The reality is neither the Iranian government nor the Iranian opposition believed that John Kerry would do anything, good or bad, in regards to Iran. The opposition believes that any conflict with the US, combined with Bush’s support for democracy in the region, is going to result in the collapse of the Iranian government. I think they are right.

So what does this all mean – what should we do about Iran? Iran is walking a very fine line – one slip and they are in big trouble. It will be very difficult to try and play the US while at the same time suppressing the opposition. The US must continue to support the democratic movement in Iran. We must continue to put pressure on the Iranian government to dismantle their nuclear programs. This pressure should be mostly military in nature but we should not be afraid to offer some economic incentives. We should do everything in our power to keep Israel from taking military action as this could actually strengthen the Iranian government. All of our actions with regard to Iran should server two purposed – eliminating the nuclear weapons threat and strengthening the democratic movement. In the end our success or failure in bringing democracy to Iraq may be the most important factor in dealing with Iran.

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