In a provocative article in Asian Times, the pseudonymous author “Spengler” has written a brave article citing the continuing trafficking of Iranian women in the sex trade as a symptom of internal poverty and despair matched only by Iran’s precipitously declining birth rate. Then, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi observes that no woman would sell her body as a sex worker unless she faced the despair of abject poverty.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has so far not fulfilled his campaign promise to share Iran’s oil wealth with the masses. Instead, the best Ahmadinejad can do is to encourage Iranians to disregard birth control and move back to having the six children Iranian women typically had when Ayatollah Khomeini dictated the need to replace those killed in the disastrous 1980s war with Iraq.
Through all this conflict, the Bush Administration continues to miss a historic opportunity. The Ahmadinejad regime, despite the obvious continued belligerence, has never been more vulnerable to the type of internal dissent that could cause regime change from within.
Increasingly, I get asked the following question on talk radio: “Instead of hanging Saddam Hussein, why don’t we let him out of prison so he can run Iraq again?” At first I though the question was meant in jest. But, sadly, the question is meant seriously. Back in power, Saddam probably would return to killing thousands more Iraqis, mostly Shi’ite. Yet the questioners insist that Saddam’s brutality was what Iraq needed for stability. The logic of the question is this: Take Saddam and his brutality away, as we have, and Iraq devolves into a civil war between Shi’ites in the south and Sunnis in the center of Iraq, possibly with the Kurds in northern Iraq getting involved to establish their hoped-for Kurdistan.
To get some perspective on the issue, I sometimes ask a talk-show question of my own: “Would we Americans really care if the Shi’ites and Sunnis in Iran engaged in a civil war that decimated Iraq, as long as we had no military there and were not involved in the self-destruction of Iraq?”
Returning Saddam to power is an improbable idea. Still, we have to acknowledge that by removing Saddam from power, Iran has acted as if we had just won the eight-year Iraq-Iran war for them. Maybe the best solution would be simply to withdraw and leave Iraq to its own internal misery. After all, during the 1980s war between Iraq and Iran weren’t Americans basically happy that Iraqi and Iranians were killing each other? Certainly for most Americans, the Iraq-Iran war (if Americans were aware of it at all) was better than watching a 444-day embassy hostage crisis play out nightly on U.S. television network news. For most Americans, the Middle East is a bother, simply too confusing and too violent to care about at all.
The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive wars might still make sense if the goal were simply to go into the Middle East and use our military power to crush any regime that truly threatened national security harm to the United States. Most Americans initially were forgiving of the Bush Administration when Saddam Hussein was removed from power even if no weapons of mass destruction were found. In other words, the problem with Iraq is that we stayed too long, and the Bush Administration began nation-building (despite George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign promise never to do so).
Had we left Iraq in 2004, the threat of a swift pre-emptive attack on Iran would today be credible. Instead, the Bush Administration has been drawn into a costly Iraq civil war that is likely to expand regionally. Besides, the very concept of another U.S. pre-emptive military attack in the region is today a non-starter with a Democrat-controlled Congress. The Bush Doctrine is now all but officially dead.
Now, with Robert Gates nominated to replace Donald Rumsfeld, we are likely to see the Bush Administration return to a policy of “constructive engagement” with Iran that should certainly please Madeline Albright and other Clinton Administration apologists. For two years, since the appointment of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (a James Baker protégé) at the start of President Bush’s second term, we have allowed the EU-3 and the IAEA to lead negotiations with Iran, a coalition-building strategy that again was designed to appeal to Democratic Party appeasers.
What has the result of all this diplomacy been? Today, Iran is advancing rapidly on the path to enrich uranium in open defiance of the world community, including the UN Security Council. The Bush Administration policy of dealing with Iran in the second term has been almost as much a failure as the Bush Administration policy of dealing with Iraq in the second term.
Since Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution, negotiation has never accomplished anything with Iran, unless those negotiating with Iran were willing themselves to concede to Iran’s demands. This point has been fully documented by Amir Taheri, one of the most informed international commentators on Iran, in a recent article in Commentary magazine. Inviting Syria and Iran to participate now in a regional conference on the future of Iraq is equivalent to inviting the foxes to join the discussion on how the chicken coop ought to be managed.
Iran today remains the main terror master in the world. Iran has now rearmed Hezbollah and increased their funding to Hamas in the Gaza. The improvised explosive devices used in Iraq are today designed in Iran. As Iraq becomes more violent day by day, the main beneficiary of continued chaos in that country remains Iran. We will never have peace in Iraq or in Israel as long as Iran remains in the grip of their radical Shi’ite revolution.
Yet, even after Congress has passed the Iran Freedom Support Act, the State Department under Rice’s direction still refuses to declare that regime change is our policy with regard to Iran. If only the Bush administration would fund the many ex-patriot Iranian groups that want to bring freedom to Iran, the Ahmadinejad regime could be placed under increasing domestic pressure even today.
War in the Middle East always represents a failure of foreign policy, not a success or an opportunity. A pre-emptive strike on Iran by either the U.S. or by Israel is likely to end up as much a disaster as the current U.S. involvement in Iraq. Nor will peaceful change in the region come from continuing or expanding a doomed pattern of failed negotiations with Iran. Negotiating with Iran will only strengthen the Ahmadinejad regime when what we should be doing is encouraging and funding those Iranians in the U.S. and around the world who could knowledgably bring positive change within their own country.