First, let’s assess American policy toward Iran in the Obama era.
Said policy is aimed at “engagement” with the Iranian regime, presumably on the basis that the previous administration refused to engage with Iran and achieved little in the form of tangible results. The Obama approach, therefore, is to promote a higher level of dialogue, in fact going so far as to suggest high-level discussions with Iran.
Obama’s campaign rhetoric aside, for eight years the Bush administration was “engaged” with Iran’s mullahs, either through low-level discussions or through intermediaries. Bush, in fact, used Britain, France and Germany as negotiators with Iran on the question of the latter’s pursuit of nuclear weapons virtually throughout his second term.
To justify his disingenuous or ill-informed criticism, therefore, the current president has offered olive branch after olive branch to the Iranian regime, from videotaped messages to the “Islamic Republic of Iran” to offers to enrich Iranian uranium free of charge outside the country, and so on.
If Bush’s results were meager, Obama’s have been nonexistent – as everyone but the president and his team seems to understand. Iran is testing long-range missiles, invading Iraq and continuing to arm and support terrorist elements fighting American troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It brags about its progress in building a nuclear program, continues to discuss a world without the United States and/or Israel and refuses to negotiate with Obama unless the American president agrees to disarm our nuclear weapons capability. The regime shows itself to be more intractable with each round of diplomatic activity.
In the meantime, the greatest opportunity for advancement of relations between America and Iran in 30 years is being lost. A nonviolent revolution against the Iranian regime continues to build in its seventh month since putative president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was the recipient of a stolen re-election in June. The regime is universally despised by a population that is overwhelmingly young, does not buy into the anti-American propaganda spewed by its leadership and continues to ramp up pressure with each opportunity.
The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri last week, and his funeral earlier today in the Shi’ite holy city of Qom, has generated massive street demonstrations – the protestors, who are denied permission to assemble for their own purposes by the government, make use of every opportunity they can to take to the streets.
Smart American policy would include one of two approaches, neither of which Obama is currently pursuing.
First, since presidents since Woodrow Wilson have championed the pursuit of freedom and democracy as the driving force behind American foreign policy it would be quite conventional, expected and facile for Obama to take to the airwaves in full support of the regime’s dissidents. One would expect the president to hail the efforts of Iran’s protest leaders by name, demand by name that those in the dissident movement who have been jailed, tortured, raped or otherwise abused by the regime be released and in every public respect express support for the Green Revolution, as it’s being called, in an effort to keep morale up within the movement.
There is something of a risk in such a strategy; namely, that by encouraging a regime change in Iran Obama would be giving perceived legitimacy to the mullahs’ efforts to paint the dissidents as traitors and American spies. This has happened anyway, and it was inevitable that a regime which has established “Death To America” as the de facto national motto of Iran would paint its opponents as in league with the United States. Under such circumstances, it’s hard to make a convincing case that American encouragement of a peaceful revolt in Iran would backfire in any way that might materially worsen our current situation.
The second approach, which might or might not complement the first, is covert logistical support for a full-fledged revolution. Protestors are regularly beaten and shot by Iranian police and security forces; if revolutionaries had the weapons to shoot back the government might fall all the faster. We have ample resources with our military presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan to supply revolutionary groups just as Iran uses such groups to fight a proxy war against us in Iraq and Afghanistan; turning the tables on the regime is something they have expected from us for the best part of a decade.
Or such logistical support might include not weapons but other means of aid to the dissidents. Our approach in Poland in the 1980’s, for example, did not include military aid of any kind to the Solidarity movement. Instead, the Reagan administration worked with American unions and the Vatican to create such things as strike funds to support union job actions; this can be easily accomplished in Iran.
In any event, there is now a perfect opportunity to remove the most dangerous rogue regime on the planet and the nexus of an anti-American alliance which grows stronger year by year – and to remove that regime before it is able to threaten its people and the rest of the world with nuclear weapons.
What’s the latest from the American political class on Iran? As of last week, it looks like sending John Kerry over there is what’s being bandied about. Kerry’s people deny that the Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman is planning a trip to Tehran to talk to the mullahs, a trip which would represent the highest-level delegation there since the Shah fell, but from the glowing praise for the idea put out by the Obama administration it’s at least being discussed within the foreign policy establishment.
Kerry – or whoever else Obama might send – isn’t going to accomplish anything with the Iranian regime. America has nothing to offer that regime. They’re not interested in trade with the United States, they’re not interested in normalizing relations with us, they don’t want increased travel privileges. They’ve made it very clear that they regard us as a mortal enemy and they want to destroy us. Period.
To the extent that such an actor can be negotiated with at all, it’s imperative to change the current status quo so that if you can’t offer them a carrot they’re interested in they’d at least like to get you to stop beating them with a stick. We have no sticks to beat Iran with at present, or at least none the Iranians are afraid of. We’ve ruled out military action against the regime, which is probably a prudent decision, this administration won’t publicly criticize them, we aren’t visibly supporting their internal opposition and we won’t even enforce trade restrictions and economic sanctions against them.
It’s a stunningly feckless policy and after a year it’s obvious more of the same isn’t going to work.
If Obama knew what he was doing on Iran, he would be calling that regime illegitimate, dictatorial and tyrannical at every opportunity and he would have the full weight of the American government behind the removal – by whatever means – of that regime. Instead, his policy has the effect of propping up an implacable enemy – which does real and perhaps lasting damage to America’s prestige and security.
Sending Kerry to further appease Iran would only pour more gasoline on a fire that has long since burned out of control. Let’s pray that the denials by the Senator’s people are more than well-spun lies.