What the US Should Do About Iran

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been engaging in a bit of lively back and forth with one reader over my 2008 Yom Kippur sermon on Iran. I haven’t posted on Iran in some time, but that certainly doesn’t mean I’m not following developments there with great interest.

I do believe the Islamic regime’s increasingly brutal crackdown on human rights is a sign that it is taking the challenge of the Green Movement very, very seriously.  For our part, the the US administration appears somewhat paralyzed – issuing tepid statements, wary of throwing too much support to the Greens lest they get accused of meddling in Iranian politics yet again.  Meanwhile, the regime-change drumbeats of the right continue to grow ominously louder and louder.

Still, it would be mistaken and foolhardy to assume the only choice we have is between doing nothing and doing too much. In this regard, I commend to you this very insightful and helpful article by Dr. Trita Parsi and Alireza Nader of the National Iranian American Council.

Here’s my edited version:

(Between) the extremes of doing nothing and doing everything, there is a middle ground: providing the Iranian pro-democracy movement with breathing space, rather than engaging in risky and imprecise exercises that would directly involve America as an actor on the Iranian scene. The United States can achieve this through a few simple steps.

First, the United States should tread carefully when it comes to issuing military threats. Under the shadow of a foreign military threat, the uphill battle of the Iranian pro-democracy movement becomes even steeper, as the Iranian regime is quite adept at exploiting foreign threats to stifle criticism at home…

Second, the United States should avoid sanctions that put a burden on the Iranian people, rather than the Iranian government. Broad-based sanctions that hit the entire economy hurt common citizens far more than the powerful elites. Any new sanctions should demonstrate not only international discontent with the conduct of the Tehran government, but also an effort by the United States to keep from harming average Iranians…

Third, Washington should slow down the diplomatic process. Negotiation with Iran in and of itself is not the problem; engagement doesn’t legitimize the Iranian government, as only the people of Iran can do that. But in spite of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s latest offer to accept the International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear deal, Iran remains in political turmoil. It is questionable that Tehran can make enduring decisions on issues of this magnitude under these circumstances…

Fourth, the international community, including the White House and U.S. State Department, should be vocal in excoriating Iran’s human rights abuses. Condemning abuses should not be confused with interfering in internal Iranian affairs…The Iranian government is, perhaps surprisingly, very sensitive in this area, due to its ambition to be perceived as a regional leader. This sensitivity should be utilized to make advances on the human rights front in Iran…

Finally, Washington should exercise patience and view Iran as a long-term factor in shaping U.S. national security interests across the Middle East. The green movement will not and cannot adjust its action plan to suit the U.S. political timetable. But if patience is granted – which includes avoiding a singular focus on the nuclear issue at the expense of all other considerations – Washington will access a far greater potential for change.

2 thoughts on “What the US Should Do About Iran

  1. David Blechman

    Let us not forget that the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1951 was Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh. Mossadegh was overthrown in Operation Ajax, a British and American sponsored coup, in order to basically secure oil ties after Mossadegh nationalized the countries resource.
    If anything U.S. government needs to keep negotiation lines open, but should not be a direct mediator in any way. The presence of non-state actors such as foreign press, and human rights groups will have a large influence on the outcome of this political headlock.


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