How to Say “Hard Questions” in Farsi

Sunday, August 21st, 2005 2:44 pm by cyclops

George Will’s latest column, Axis of Irritation, covers alot of ground in its examination of some of the thorny problems in Iran and Iraq facing American foreign policy makers. With respect to Iran, Will writes :

Meanwhile, acting on behalf of “Europe” — an old geographic expression and a freshly minted political fiction — Britain, France and Germany, that troika of old-world high-mindedness, have offered Iran, as inducement for abandoning its nuclear aspirations, the carrot of favors that translate into cash. They also have threatened the stick of sanctions and “isolation.” But Iran, floating on a sea of oil, neither feels nor fears the hot breath of penury breathing down its neck.

I have always been fascinated with Iran, an ancient and very proud culture (and a culture that has historically seen itself as superior to the Arab world). And more recently (and perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively), because of the severed relations following the Revolution, Iran is the most pro-American country in the Middle East.

The question for US policy-makers is how to cultivate this reservoir of good-will among the majority of Iranians while at the same time insuring that Iran does not complete its (quite transparent) quest to build nuclear weapons. There are no easy answers.

Demographically, time is on the side of the West. As Will notes, the median age in Iran is 24.2 years. Most of its citizens have no recollection of the Revolution and feel no affinity or good-will toward the hard-line mullahs. So, there are many people who despise their government and the Supreme Council (and hence like the US). Unfortunately, time is not on our side when it comes to the proliferation of nuclear technology. By some estimates, Iran is only 1-2 years from a nuclear weapon. Given Iran’s willingness to fund terrorists, the idea of Iran having a nuclear weapon in a year is (to say the least) unsettling.

Some Middle East commentators suggest that we should enter into a dialogue with Iran’s leaders in order to make a deal on the nuclear issue. See, for example, Fareed Zakaria’s recent column in the Washington Post entitled Talk to Tehran. He writes:

There are lots of reasons to be suspicious of Iran. But the real question is: Do we want to try to stop it from going nuclear? If so, why not explore this path (i.e. discussions with the Iranian government)? Washington could authorize the European negotiators to make certain conditional offers, and see how Tehran responds. What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work, the deal doesn’t happen and Tehran resumes its nuclear activities. That’s where we are today.

But Zakaria does not seem to recognize that there is a huge risk with his approach, namely that if such discussions were made public, the United States would be seen as a sell-out in the eyes of many (if not a majority) of Iranian who hate their government and see us as the antidote to their forced theocracy.

Unfortunately, the military option is not likely to succeed either, because the Iranians have learned from their past mistakes. Now, it appears that the Iranian military has done a good job of hiding and protecting its nuclear facilities. Also, an attack by the US would no doubt nationalize the Iranian public and strengthen the political position of the ruling mullahs.

In light of these difficult facts, I believe that the US should continue to let Europe take the lead. We can maintain our reservoir of good-will among most Iranians for the time being. We should also explore military options (i.e. “leave every option on the table”, as the Bush Administration says), but we should also plan for the day when Iran is a member of the nuclear states. As bad as that sounds, we have to remember that Pakistan is a current member, so we’ve dealt with some of these thorny issues before.

One Response to “How to Say “Hard Questions” in Farsi”

  1. tom Says:

    France, with a nearly 20% and growing Muslim population, is becoming politically compromised in the effort to slow Iran’s push into the nuke business. I am still hoping that Israel will be able to show the hutzpa (sp?) the US will not or cannot show against any known Iranian nuclear sites. Sell/give them a few bunker-buster type bombs for those underground sites.

    In the article I was particularly disturbed by the assessmenot of Iran as the most pro-American of the Middle East countries. I can only imagine what state the mideast would be in if Carter has not abandoned the Shah’s govt. What a different world it might be if Ford had preceeded Reagan as president.