Iran’s Party Crashers

After yesterday’s unrest in Iran it is clear that the revolution is hot again, after conveniently taking a week off so the Western media could breathlessly cover the whereabouts of Michael Jackson’s body.  The green revolution is less convenient from the point of view of nearly everyone attempting to prevent Iran’s nuclear program.

After Obama took office his strategy on Iran seemed clear: by taking a hard line with Israel and reaching out to the Muslim World in Cairo he was attempting to reestablish the U.S. as an impartial actor in the region, even as he solidified support from Russia and China to present a unified international front.  Israel was the crucial to this plan, both because progress on a Palestinian final status agreement would weaken Iran’s position in the Muslim world and because Israel’s bluster was the bad cop to Obama’s good cop.  The leadership in the Arab world is certainly receptive to Obama, though whether or not China and Russia would agree to tougher sanctions remains unclear.  However, this measured plan has been upset by the events in Tehran.

The brutal crackdown against the protesters demonstrates that the regime is, and probably always has been, illegitimate and brutally repressive.  Iran’s credibility on the Muslim streets as a the antidote to American imperialism is damaged, making it unaccountable to foreign public opinion as it suppresses domestic unrest.  Thus, Iran’s current leadership has “gone rogue” (I can’t remember if that is a Palinism or a description of Palin) and it must be prevented from further destabilization of the region at any cost.

Yet, it is clear that the civilian population of Iran does not agree with their leadership and their humanity is demonstrated in a thousand ways every day.  A military strike, especially from the air, would kill many supporters of the nascent pro-democracy revolution, if not the revolution itself.  Further, unless such an attack could accomplish regime change, impossible if done by Israel, it seems unlikely that it could do more than very temporarily delay the nuclear program.

So how to proceed when any negotiations will have to be conducted with a regime that is clearly illegitimate, that will attempt to gain legitimacy from the negotiations themselves, and a military option with limited gains and huge costs?  If Obama’s leverage in negotiations is the threat of punitive sanctions, then he must ensure China and Russia’s full participation, which – given the weak statement on Iran’s nuclear program that came out of the G-8– seems far from assured.  Beyond that, perhaps the green revolution can ratchet up the internal pressure on the regime, but what is the end game for the removal of a regime willing to kill its children?  Obama’s wait and see approach is not just prudent given this current morass, it seems to be the only thing possible.

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3 Responses to Iran’s Party Crashers

  1. MAR says:

    Interesting, but I wonder if this whole affair has undermined the point of being so worried about Iran after all?
    From a nuke proliferation standpoint, I had always been concerned about Iran because of potential irrationality of their leadership. Mutually assured destruction and detterence worked in the cold war, and I think they’ll work in general with competent, rational actors. Iran didnt seem to fit that mold, and so was scary in its unpredictability.
    The reaction of the regime to the protests has been nothing more than standard, banal autocratic/dictatorship responses, which makes me question whether they really are any different from normal states. I mean we’ve seen this kind of reaction (escalating violence, reliance on paramilitaries, fracturing of elites, blaming foreigners) in pretty much every popular democratic uprising in history!
    Iran seems to be a rational actor with a complex domestic polity that doesnt want to suicide itself. This makes Iran with nukes far less scary than a few months ago.

  2. joebenaiah says:

    Your argument is that now that Iran’s leadership has been exposed as typical despots, rather than atypical religious zealots, you are less worried about nuclear Iran? To only look at nuclear proliferation through the nuclear peace theory would lead to the fallacy that proliferation actually encourages stability. The reality is probably more like credit default swaps, a tiny profit now and the tiny possibility of calamity later. The more you play, the more likely you are to eventually lose.

    Plus, what about the regional destabilization of the most important strategic area in the world? The Sunni Arab leaders will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, to say nothing of Israel.

  3. CK says:

    To speak of “regime change” in Iran is a waste of keystrokes. Be it Moosavi or Ahmadenijad, the laws of Iran will still be those of Islam, and the true leader will remain the Ayatollah. Nobody wants a nuclear Iran (excluding Iran), and, as such, even those “hostile” actors on the nuclear stage will do everything to prevent it.

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