Foreign Affairs

How to Avert a Wider Regional War with Iran

What has plagued the American foreign policy in the Middle East and the war on terror is directly linked to ambiguous and contradictory policies towards the Islamic regime in Iran. The victory of the war on terror is contingent upon understanding the particularities of Iran as a unique nation in the Middle East. 
 
As the insurgent and sectarian violence drops in Iraq and the United States government starts to reverse the 30,000-strong troop surge, these contradictions will make it more apparent that the final strategic objective of the war on terror is still wrapped in a veil of ambiguities.

Over the past few weeks, the media reported that there has been a sharp decrease in the number of roadside bombs in Iraq.  On Thursday November 14, Army Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons, Multinational Corps Iraq’s deputy commander for support, credited Iran for abiding by its “commitments” to halt the flow of the deadly road side bombs and weapons into Iraq. Nevertheless, Gen. Simmons maintained that coalition troops continue to find Iranian weapons in caches they uncover. On the same day, the Iraqi government’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh echoed General Simmons’ remarks and credited Iran for a drop in violence. 
 
Implicit in the credit is the charge that Iran has in fact been responsible for these deadly operations but has stopped them for now in accordance with some limited and behind the scenes agreements with the Americans.  Many Iranians opposition leaders link the “good behavior” by Tehran to the reward they have received from the United States.  As Tehran Times has reported, last week, nine detained Iranian members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps who had been arrested by American forces from the Iranian consulate in Irbil for smuggling weapons into Iraq were freed and were allowed to return to Iran.   
 
These deals and agreements happened at a time that the U.S. Congress, at the instigation of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization. 
 
From the perspective of Iranian dissidents, the equivocations and ambiguities of American policy towards the ayatollahs is not dissimilar to the Carter administration’s policies. Jimmy Carter criticized the human right policies of the late Shah and withdrew American support for the Shah but he later supported the ayatollahs who were immensely worse in terms of violating the human rights. Carter turned a blind eye to the executions, tortures and imprisonment of many Iranians and it was his lack of Iran policy that plagued his presidency.  Of course, Carter had no vision and no real commitment to anything except looking good.  It was his ambiguities on Iran that finally failed him. 
 
The average Iranians have historically regarded America as their most staunch international supporter for self determination and human rights going all the way back to the constitutional revolution of 1906. In that revolution, many volunteer Americans fought alongside the Iranians against the dictatorial regime that was backed by Russia. 
Nevertheless, Iranians remain puzzled about what America considers the basis of its conflict with Islamic regime.  Is it the nuclear weapon and the threat to Israel and the civilized world? Is it the killing of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with the explicit purpose of kicking Americans out of the region to impose Iran’s hegemony? Is all about oil and the cheap labor? Or it is really about terrorist and extremist Islamic factions that justify violence to convert the world?  
 
Some of the blame for the confusion falls on the shoulder of the liberal media which has failed to report accurately on Iran.  They have over emphasized the role of the ruling clerics and have under reported the brave struggle of the Iranians for freedom and self determination.  All the labor strikes, student demonstrations, torture of journalists and executions do not make their way into western media, while those gatherings that have been staged by the regime make all the headlines.  The media has reduced the highly charged complexities of the war on terror into a partisan issue. 
 
The Islamic regime in Iran has understood this phenomenon perfectly.  Aware that the President Bush does not have a full congressional support, every time they sense resolve and determination from the White House, they rapidly back off and make a small deal only to renege on that offer a few weeks later. Case in point:  as the road side bombs decreased in Iraq, they increased in Afghanistan without media notice.  The Tehran regime has announced — repeatedly — that they will use all at their disposal to create as much bloodshed in Iraq as necessary to turn the American public opinion against the war and force the United States to withdraw from the region and impose a new radical Islamic caliphate on the Middle East. Yet, the liberal media accepts every new “commitment” the regime makes regardless of their failure to abide by any longer than it takes for the ink to dry. 
 
The Iranian regime’s short-term goal is to keep America off balance and prevent the formation of an Iran policy that would be effective in blocking their ambition. To date, they have been entirely successful. 

One thing is for certain.  What ever political party that is in power in the United States must necessarily regard the people of Iran as the most significant player of Iranian politics.  Otherwise, the mistakes of the past thirty years will surely be repeated. 

While the Europeans have understood this, they still play a double actively supporting the Islamic regime behind the scenes. One part of the European approach is, nevertheless, helpful.  They issue formal edicts of support for the people of Iran. The recent bill that was passed by the European Union Parliament condemning Iran for human rights abuses including torture and the persecution of homosexuals and journalists was a huge success for the people of Iran and they were immensely grateful to the Europeans. 

Americans can follow suit.  Just recently the regime sentenced Mr. Adnan Hassanpoor, a journalist to death.  American protest can go a long way in saving his life and strengthening the bond with the Iranian people. 
 
But declarations go only so far, and the time before Iran achieves nuclear weapons grows very short.  It may still be possible for the Iranian people — with the open and consistent support of the United States and other nations — to rise up and remove the regime of the ayatollahs.  But without that consistency, American policy toward Iran cannot possibly succeed. 

Public pressure on the regime to respect and recognize human rights will encourage and embolden the people of Iran to take risks and to challenge the regime.  The international community and the international labor organizations must do all they can to reduce the cost of political activism in Iran for ordinary workers, women and students.  Once the people of Iran feel the firm support of the United States, they may yet be able to take on the regime and remove it from power.  

Neither the United States nor the people of Iran can turn the clock back to a moment when they could make leisurely assessments and plan for decades ahead. If action is not effective before the ayatollahs achieve their nuclear weapons ambitions, the consequences for the people of Iran and the peoples of the West will be so horrible that history will not forgive any of us.


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