The loud, angry and sterile debate over the Iranian president's visit to
Columbia University raises a more serious problem that has long confounded
American policymakers: How to cope with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's real masters, the corrupt regime of mullahs who determine both foreign and domestic policy in
Iran. Their rule has meant awful suffering for the Iranian people, whose
democratic aspirations remain frustrated, and instability for the Middle East
and the world, as the leadership in Tehran constantly seeks provocations to
distract from its own failures.
Now the same geopolitical geniuses who promoted the invasion of Iraq -- and
thereby endowed the mullahs with more influence than they ever enjoyed before --
insist that the only solution is another war. They claim that we are already at
war and should begin bombing Iranian nuclear and military sites as soon as
Obviously, he has no use for Bush or his neoconservative administration and that is fine. Somewhere around two thirds of Americans and more agree with him. What is troubling about his assertion that the administration is marching toward war and that is the only solution. What I believe is closer to the truth is that Bush has relied on the UN and the Europeans for far too long and has put war so far on the back burner that the Iranian regime has become emboldened. It isn't that Bush has foresaken diplomacy, in my opinion, but that he has relied too much on it. The two countries have had several high level meetings vis a vis Iraq and all that has happened is that the weaponry from Iran used to kill our soldiers has only increased.
Conason believes that our isolationist policy has gotten no results but the Clinton admin made engagement their policy with regards to the Syrians and the Palestinians throughout the nineties, and I assert that those policies were significantly more counter productive than ours. I assert that the problem is that while we isolate the Europeans engage. If we can come together on a full court isolationist policy, that would have devastating results. While it isn't a perfect model, the South African apartheid government was brought down largely through coordinated isolation. I don't know any despot and tyrant who was brought down through engagement.
Once merely a small-time populist politician in his hometown, Ahmadinejad hasHere Conason is just merely engaging in misrepresentation or out and out lying. Ahmadinejad is no folk hero anywhere, especially not in his country. Fortunately, unlike, Conason, I have a little more than mere assertions to back up my case. For proof, let's take a look at a poll of Iranians conducted just this past July
become a folk hero throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds thanks to his
provocations against America, Israel and the West. Sunni Muslims and
secular-minded Arabs who might otherwise oppose Shiite authoritarianism applaud
him because they perceive him as standing up for them against Western
oppressors. Each expression of American outrage against the Iranian president
from afar, every screaming tabloid headline and radio rant, only inflates the
significance of this unimpressive and fundamentally unimportant man. And the
constant threats of war from within the Bush White House and its neoconservative
echo chamber intensify the effectiveness of his propaganda, both within his own
country and across the Middle East.
Iranians oppose the institution of an "unelected Supreme Leader" by 61-27
and favor democracy by 79-14. So when liberals assail neocons for having a naive
faith in peoples' aspirations for freedom, they are just wrong - even in Iran.
* Iranians want nuclear power more than nuclear weapons. Suffering under
gasoline rationing and falling energy exports, three-quarters said that
developing nuclear power, without weapons, was "very important." By contrast,
only 37 percent said developing nuclear weapons was a similar priority. Since
the Iranian regime says that it wants nuclear power, not nuclear weapons, its
stated position accords with its people's views. (The government, of course, is
lying and wants to get a bomb.)
The survey underscores the need to separate nuclear power from weaponry in
the minds of the people and make clear that Western sanctions are designed to
prevent Iran from getting the bomb, not power or energy.
* Iranians would gladly agree to "full inspections and a guarantee that
Iran would not develop nuclear weapons" if other nations would increase overall
trade and investment (80 percent), increase investment in the energy sector (79
percent), give humanitarian assistance (80 percent) or assist in helping Iran
develop peaceful nuclear energy (80 percent).
* Only 33 percent said supporting terrorist proxies Hezbollah or Hamas was
a priority, and 55 percent are ready to endorse full recognition of Israel and
of a Palestinian state if they could get "normal trade and full recognition"
from the United States. Almost two-thirds - 64 percent - said that they are
willing to end Iranian assistance to armed groups in Iraq and 51 percent would
forgo nuclear weaponry and accept full international controls and inspections in
return for normal relations with the United States.
Furthermore, Ahmadinejad has been roundly criticized for his own domestic economic policy
At the same time, the traditional conservatives and their natural allies, the
bazarries, the country's small merchant class who control much of the Iranian
economy, are increasingly alarmed about Ahmadinejad’s policies. The influential
head of Tehran's bazaar guilds, Ahmad Karimi, recently stated that economics is
a science and those who have neglected its basic principals -- meaning the
Ahmadinejad administration -- can no longer evade responsibility by blaming
others for their mismanagement. Iran's influential Friday prayer leaders, most
of whom are conservative, have also heaped contempt on the president for his
economic policies. The mainstream political analyst Amir Mohebbian, in an
interview with Roozonline daily, stated that the conservative faction can no
longer afford to conceal its widening internal schisms -- implying that the time
for compromise with the militant faction has passed.
If this is praise, I have to wonder what exactly someone needs to say for Conason to consider it condemnation. As for the rest of Middle East, mostly Sunni to Ahmadinejad's Shia, they are almost universally petrified of him. So much so that there was nothing but whispers to the recent bombing of a suspected Syrian nuclear site. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia just entered into an arms deal specifically to counter the threat from Iran that the Saudis fear.
The United States is reported to be preparing a major arms deal with Saudi
Arabia and other Gulf states worth $20bn (£9.8bn) over the next decade. Defence
officials quoted by US media said the sales would include advanced weaponry,
missile guidance systems, upgraded fighter jets and naval ships. It is said to
be an attempt to counter the regional threat posed by Iran.
The rest of the Middle East feels pretty much the same way. Most of the entire Middle East considers Iran nothing but a threat to their very existence
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan regard the Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah triangle (as voiced through the press, and not from the regimes themselves) as a sort of axis of radical policy, the muqawamah--the "Shi'a storm" as King Abdallah of Jordan dared call it--or as a group that strives for an Islamic Middle East. Such terms were being applied to this axis even before the Lebanon War of the summer of 2006. The Arab countries were aware of Iran, the ambitious giant that rose up from the East, at least since Ahmadinejad's election as president, but they consciously chose to ignore this. In the accord from the March 2006 Arab summit in Khartoum, the only reference to Iran was, as in the past, the demand to return the three islands over which there is dispute between Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
Unlike me, Conason, has absolutely no back up for his assertion that Ahmadinejad is some sort of a populist in most of the Middle East. The truth is much closer to his being perceived as a madman on the scale of the greatest madmen of all time a la Adolph Hitler.
The moment of dialogue at Columbia, by contrast, shrank Ahmadinejad back down to a more realistic size. Unlike Tehran, where his thugs can intimidate, imprison
and even murder those who dare to question him, he had to stand and listen
meekly as Columbia students and president Lee Bollinger demanded answers about
his government's repressive acts. Although Bollinger went over the top in
parroting various White House themes in his brusque language, his commitment to
free speech reflected well on the United States.
If only that were true, but I already debunked this myth just yesterday. Here are some excerpts of reaction to his speech from the Middle East and beyond...
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have faced ridicule in the United States
bysuggesting there were no homosexuals in Iran, but he won praise at home
onWednesday for taking his country’s case to “the Lion’s Den.”
Generally,politicians and media in the Islamic Republic — even some who have
previouslycriticized the president — described Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York
as atriumph and denounced the university president who called him “a petty and
crueldictator.” ...The president spoke at Columbia University on Monday and
onTuesday addressed the U.N. General Assembly, where he told world leaders
theissue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions was “closed” and that military threats
andsanctions had failed.“By fearlessly and courageously walking into the‘Lion’s
Den’ ... he is sure to become even more of a hero in the Arab-Muslimstreet than
before,” the daily Iran News wrote."...
Ahmadinejad is hitting the blind spots, the stuff polite society does not
talkabout, that is his attractionHis comments on the bomb are more intelligent
thanthe drivel you read in the Western press by so called analysts.Basically the
US,Western countries have lost the moral highground - Putin's talkbacks prove
thattoo -- No I would not vote for Ahmadinejad, if I lived in Iran - you vote
forhim, he is not a dictator ... to use words like fascism in an Iranian
contextdoes not make sense ... yes the party I would vote for is illegal in Iran
...,no I would not vote for Putin
Thus, whatever Conason thinks of the reaction to his speech, in reality, it was as I predicted a PR coup for him where it mattered, the Middle East.
Conason then leads us into his own ideas for dealing with the regime...
When the sideshow ends and the mullahs' puppet returns to Tehran, we will
still have to decide how to deal with the regime he represents. As Peter
Galbraith explains in a penetrating essay in the current issue of The New York
Review of Books, the Bush administration has vastly empowered the Iranian
leaders by overthrowing their enemy Saddam Hussein and installing their Shiite
allies as Baghdad's new government.
With 160,000 American troops in Iraq, moreover, we are not exactly in the
optimal strategic position to wage war against Iran, despite the bloody
fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney. Unlike Saddam in 2003, whose armed
forces disintegrated within days, Tehran has a real army and air force, and
sufficient naval power to block the Iraqi ports. Our forces would have to fight
not only the 800,000-man Iranian army but also the Shiite militias, who could
swiftly cut our resupply route.
Let's leave aside the balance of power question for a minute and deal with the idea that having 160K in troops on his border somehow puts us in a weaker position militarily to strike at him. That is absurd on its face and needs no link to be disproven. The simple fact is that we had troops all throughout Western Europe specifically as a military challenge to the Soviet Union, and we continue to have troops on the Korean border for the exact same reason. Whatever one thinks of the Iraq war claiming that having troops in Iraq puts us in a poorer position to strike Iran is just intellectually bankrupt. As to the Iraqi government being beholden to Iran, well the beauty of democratically elected governments is that they tranisegent. The people of Iraq will be no happier with a puppet Iranian theocracy anymore than they were happy with Saddam's baathist, but the only difference is that this government can be voted out.
Acting like Saddam should have been kept in power because he would act as a counter weight to an equally evil rival is pretty absurd. Trying to resolve issues by relying on several evil regimes holding some sort of a delicate balance would eventually blow up in your face and lead to all sorts of unintended consequences.
It is an ugly prospect to contemplate, with potential losses that would
dwarf our casualties in Iraq and an aftermath that would be still more chaotic,
dangerous and ruinous to our reputation. Assuming we would eventually win, would
that mean taking control of Iran -- with the same kind of "success" we have
enjoyed next door?
The alternative is what Iran's courageous democratic dissidents have long
implored us to do, and what the Iraq Study Group urged last year. Engage the
regime, draw Iran into the world economic system and penetrate its closed
borders peacefully to strengthen its civil society and weaken its overgrown
theocratic state. Stop making heroes of the villainous mullahs and their
puppets, and start dividing the pragmatists and reformers from the fanatics. And
mute the threats that in Iranian eyes justify a nuclear weapons
That would be the beginning of wisdom.
Anyone reading this should have long become weary of every assertion Conason makes. He backs absolutely nothing up. He seems to take as fact that propping a theocracy up economically will somehow help our cause. For instance he claims we are uniting reformers and fanatics. Not only did the poll I cited utterly refute that, but how exactly does propping up the economy divide those groups. Furthermore, he asserts that dissidents have long implored that we engage the regime. Who are these dissidents? None that I know of say that we should engage with the regime. He claims that we are making them heroes, which, again, I thoroughly debunked as well. This is the sort of empty rhetoric that one will find all over college campuses as they willfully ignore evidence to the contrary.
I am not against engaging with evil sociopaths like Ahmadinejad per se. For instance, the U.S. and Britain engaged one of the worst in history in Joseph Stalin in WWII. However, there was something different there. Stalin felt a threat worse than the U.S. in Hitler and used the enemy of my enemy logic. We don't have that here. Even when Reagan engaged Gorbachev, who I must make sure everyone understands is every bit a reasonable person and no sociopath, he did it only after he built up the arms race so that the Soviets were crumbling. Peace through strength is not a mere slogan but proper diplomacy when dealing with enemies. Simply meeting because you feel dialogue is always the answer is totally counter productive when you are dealing with sociopaths. Sociopaths have goals and all that matters to them is accomplishing those goals. Ahmadinejad wants to rule the Middle East and kill everyone he disagrees with and any meeting will be used on his part to accomplish that goal.
As someone so aptly put once "The only way to negotiate with your enemy, is with your knee on his chest and your knife at his throat." If we are going to negotiate with Ahmadinejad it is with that thought in mind, not with any of the touchy feely ideas that Conason has.
Finally, if you want an alternative to Conason's alternative please read her