Let’s Be Realistic About Iran

Too often our political dialogue devolves into a Manichean division of extremes. Yet the world and its various issues and conflicts are often much more nuanced and complicated than all that, especially in the realm of foreign policy.

Which brings me to Charles Fisher’s post from last week, “The Case Against Iran.” While there was much I agreed with in this article, there are also many key things that Fisher just gets wrong.

Take for instance the idea that “war between Iran and Israel is nothing but inevitable.” This has been a frequent and frantic prediction for years. That is not to say war may not happen, just that we should take these assertive, clairvoyant claims with a healthy dose of skepticism. Nothing is set in stone. There are various factors that could deescalate the conflict from either side (a change in Israeli leadership, U.S. pressure on Israel, and internal Iranian unrest against the regime— just to name a few).

Also, the idea that the “U.S. would extend its military hand in aid of Israel” is a bit presumptuous as well. For a country that just got done with two long, expensive (in lives and money) occupations of Muslim-dominant countries, hopping right into another such conflict, with ground forces and occupation included, seems ludicrous. The likelihood that the American political leadership or the general populace would be gung-ho for such a venture, even if Mitt Romney were in the White House, seems slim.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, and his underlings may be tyrannical, ruthless theocrats but they still make decisions based on their country’s national interest rather than on any suicidal apocalyptic embrace of nuclear annihilation

However, the part of Fisher’s post that is most off-base is the picture he paints of the Iranian regime and the assumption that the only available response to it be military.

Yes, the Iranian regime is a brutal, theocratic bunch from whom nuclear weaponry would be best kept away. And yes, Iran extends a pernicious influence around the region; although, for accuracy sake, Fisher’s claims that Iran is “supporting insurgencies in Iraq” are a bit dated. The Shia insurgency has largely died down, in part because of the diverse religious group’s overall dominance of the state over the Kurdish and Sunni Arab factions and the absence of a large-scale U.S. military presence.

It could actually be argued that Iran is now working as a force of stability in Iraq, providing resources and money not only for the country’s Shias but for other parties as well (for instance providing parts of the autonomous Kurdish region with electricity). The reason for this is simple: at this point in time Iraq’s stability is in Iran’s national interest.

This is not to ignore negative Iranian meddling in other areas, like Afghanistan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria. Iran also possesses a deep history of international terrorism, most recently with speculation about its role in a suicide bombing in Bulgaria.

Yet despite all these heinous deeds the idea that the Iranian regime comprises a group of apocalyptic zealots ready to sacrifice themselves and their populace in a nuclear armageddon is far from accurate.

As Fisher’s own article attests (with the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani), Iran, like any country focused on following its national interest, is susceptible to international pressure. The regime retains a well-documented history of working within the international framework (even with the U.S.) when it suits their interests and spurring that same framework when it does not. Even Iran’s recent Syria-focused international meeting, as unfruitfull as this gathering may turn out, demonstrates the regime’s concern with its international image. These theocrats practice more realpolitik than religious nihilism on the foreign stage.

Therefore, a policy of containment and using age-old foreign policy “sticks” like sanctions is more than effective in preventing the regime from obtaining nuclear weapons in the long run. There exists no need to go rushing towards bombing, invasion and occupation. Such a path remains pure, hysterical folly.

Now, it is true that the American left includes factions that stand apologetic and impotent in the face of foreign tyranny and extremism, preferring the comfort of a simplified, robotic anti-Americanism to a nuanced thought on individual issues. However, to broadly state that “the American left stand in opposition to regime change in Iran” is simply inaccurate. Many stand in support of regime change in Iran, but the question is: by what means? And there are numerous answers to that question.

As the contrast of the Arab Spring with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars evinces, invasion and occupation are more often than not the least desirable or prudent of options.


Comments

  1. a reality which seems to escape you as well as mr. fisher, history. what has history shown us? all of this propaganda surrounding iran and nuclear weaponry is just that. the mere idea that iran somehow wants to possess an atomic bomb to annihilate the world is so fringe it borders on voyeurism and Bibi Netanyahu is the leading culprit. his motivation behind preventing a nuclear iran has nothing to do with the security of israel or its people. for him it is a demographic issue and one of power in the region. currently israel is the only country in this region who possesses a nuclear weapon, naturally giving it the upper hand. were that to change, there would no doubt be a shift in power. furthermore, sanctions do absolutely nothing but hurt the already disenfranchised people of iran. they have very little effect on the regime itself. if the american and israeli leadership are earnestly concerned about the prospect of a nuclear iran then it would behoove them to cease threatening to invade a soverign country. if iran weren’t trying to build a nuclear weapon surely the thought of being attacked would only further motivate them.

    • Where in any of this article did I state or imply that Iran wanted to “possess an atomic bomb to annihilate the world?”

      Iran poses no existential threat to the United States nor Israel. But to say there is NO THREAT from Iran possessing a nuclear weapon is equal folly, not because of the nature of the Iranian regime but because of the threat of regime collapse or destabilization. The same threat exists in Pakistan and Syria with their issues of regime collapse/destabilization adding to the dangers of rogue WMDs in a power vacuum.

      Further, talk about Netanyahu’s motivations and Israel’s nuclear arsenal and foreign policy are irrelevant to the point of this article. They are different subjects entirely. Although I agree with the sentiment of your statements surrounding these issues, I don’t see how they are relevant to the point of my article or Charles.

      Sanctions come in many forms all of which have multiple effects. Yes, often there are negative effects on the general populace (like in the case of Iraq during Saddam’s rule). However, targeted sanctions on individuals generally do not have such an effect. Also, other effects come into play, such as crippling the regime’s economy and power, increasing unrest among the populace toward a regime, and making the regime an international pariah (for example, post-Saddam Iraq is often reluctant to be a full-fledged Iranian ally for fear it may also an international policy of containment/isolation.

      Bland statements like “sanctions are always good/bad” are a gross oversimplification. Sanctions can be many things to many people. It depends on the specific sanctions, the government/societal structure of the sanctioned country, etc.

  2. Charles fisher says

    I agree with what you have posted here and stand corrected on my lack of depth and clarity. For that I am grateful…The only thing i find myself guilty of here is journalistic laziness. I would still consider myself somewhat of a hawk among doves and only wish to emphasize the importance of neutralizing any hegemony of countries like Russia, China, and Iran in the middle east. I do not consider a military option the only option, and was merely referencing the medias’ escalation of the “hype” when I stated “lately it seems a war between Iran and Isreal is nothing but inevitable” for which though I am guilty for not making the reference clear.

    In any case, I will make it a better point to research any matter or subject more deeply and refrain from crunching out a cheap 500 word piece in an hour…

    • I misread you then on the military option issue. And I agree about the problem with Russian, Chinese, Iranian negative influence in the region. We often overlook this on the left and only focus on America’s pernicious influences.

      • I’m glad to hear you mention the dangers of the other influences in the region other than the U.S. I’m also grateful that you took the time to read it and that you thought so critically about it…I know the tone of the article stinks of a neo-con, Wolfowitzesque op-ed…but I really just wanted to highlight and hold accountable Irans own atrocities, separate of whatever motives the U.S. and Isreal might have. But you are right about my mistakes with the general and broad statements made…I’ve made a note of them

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