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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reverse Psychology: The answer to Iran?


Here's a piece I wrote on Iran for my internship with the Endowment for Middle East Truth.

Currently, the United States and European Union have sanctions in place against the Islamic Republic of Iran in an effort to cripple their economy and to force them to give up on their nuclear program. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel remains on edge despite the sanctions, and the Islamic Republic’s inflammatory rhetoric against Israel provides ample reason for that attitude. If they are allowed to build nuclear warheads, keeping peace in the Middle East will be exponentially more difficult than it already is, and that’s saying something. It’s a stalemate today, but it needs resolving, and sooner would be better than later. The Iranian Government insists they are only interested in producing clean energy, but it’s hard to believe that when only last February, to commemorate the 1979 revolution, pro-government Iranians marched in the streets of Tehran with a fake missile adorned with the Iranian flag and chanted “Marg Bar Amrika!” ("Death to America!”) and “Marg bar Esrail!” (Death to Israel!)

Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected in June with a substantially higher percentage of the votes than any other candidate. Since being sworn in last month, President Rouhani has replaced his predecessor’s hard-line rhetoric with more    concessionary speech aimed towards negotiations...for now. While his different style may represent some opportunity, there are reasons to be skeptical of Mr. Rouhani. Rouhani is president, but the President of Iran answers to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei is able to override and block what the president wants, and he very well could do that sometime in the future, and possibly sooner than later.

Actions speak louder than words. Iran claims they do not want to use their nuclear crusade for defense purposes but they refuse to let anyone see their facilities. If Rouhani really wants to use nuclear power for peaceful reasons (And their insistence on enriching uranium at home is troubling), he should open up Iranian nuclear facilities to the world and prove it. Whether Rouhani will do that is unclear and unlikely, as what he says domestically is a far cry from the insistence that Iran’s not interested in nuclear weapons.

This isn’t the first time that a perceived moderate has become president of Iran. In 1997, Mohammad “Ayatollah Gorbachev” Khatami was elected president. Like Rouhani, he won decisively and his election was met with similar fervor and anticipation. However, he was the president who oversaw the start of Iranian nuclear ambitions, of which Rouhani was a major player. 

Attacking Iran, or trying to forcibly install a pro-American government, should be an absolute last resort. History suggests that would be an extremely risky operation. In 1953, the United States and United Kingdom successfully engineered a coup that deposed Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, a secular democrat, in favor of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Pahlavi, a constitutional monarch, became an absolute monarch and an oppressive dictator. When the 1979 Islamic Revolution occurred, the USA gave asylum to the dying Shah, and the Iranian people were furious. Since then, US-Iranian relations have been extremely rocky.

Oddly, despite that blunder, many of today’s Iranian people are quite fond of the United States. Many Iranians are young and either do not remember or were not alive during the Islamic Revolution. Millions of Iranians have immigrated to the United States since 1979. Many Iranians believe the Islamic Republic to be misguided, ineffective, and corrupt.   Joshua Teitelbaum cites Iranians’ responses to Fmr. President Ahmadinejad: “I wish that all of this energy that is devoted to the destruction of Israel would be directed towards the destruction of drug addiction, poverty, corruption and prostitution.” Keep in mind, it was only four years ago that Iranians jammed the streets of their cities in the Green Revolution, where thousands demanded new elections and even an end to the Islamic Republic.

The United States’ objective is to persuade the Iranian government to abandon their ambitions of nuclear weapons. To do this, the policy has been to institute sanctions  to cripple the economy so the Iranians are forced to concentrate on other economic goals. But could the same goal be achieved by doing the opposite? The Iranian economy is in shambles right now, and the country’s currency is nearly worthless: 25,000 Iranian rials make up one US Dollar.

The government wields considerable influence in many Iranian industries, but they’re not translating that influence into prosperity. This is where we may have a way in. Opening business with the Iranian people in new industries as well as industries they’ve already in place may convince the Iranian people that nuclear power is not the right avenue to pursue. The key to changing this dynamic is economics. If the preliminary diplomacy with Rouhani continues, up the ante. Tell Rouhani that we’re going to invest in Iranian businesses and assist with peaceful Iranian industries if he agrees to let us in to the Middle Eastern nation to get a better picture of the nuclear ambitions of the government. If the Iranians want to insist that their nuclear project is only for civilian purposes, strongly encourage alternative fuels with the aid of the EU. To avoid suspicion stemming from the memory of the 1953 coup, make and keep a promise for no government intervention as long as the government agrees to either pursue alternatives to nuclear power or complete transparency. Show the Iranian people that the American way is stronger, more accommodating, and more effective than what they deal with domestically.

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